LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – B-1-1-7 isn’t a Star Wars droid. It’s a COVID-19 variant. More commonly known as the UK variant. As First News at Nine’s Hayley Spitler reports, this new mutation is in La Crosse County.
A common question asked after a positive COVID-19 test is ”how did I get it?’ The way to get the answer, genome sequencing.
“A genome is basically the instruction manual that you use to make a human, or a flower, a fish, or a dog, or a coronavirus,” said Dr. Paraic Kenny Director of The Research Institute.
Gundersen Health has been genome sequencing the coronavirus for the last 12 months. Repurposing machines typically used for research in cancer cells.
“Up until September we were sequencing absolutely every single person who tested positive for the coronavirus at our facility,” said Kenny.
On average, Gundersen has sequenced one in every six positive tests in La Crosse County. A much higher average than the rest of the country according to Dr. Kenny.
Each sequence takes three days to complete.
Dr. Kenny said, “We can map out all of the mutations that have been inquired all the way back to Wuhan.”
Outbreaks in long-term care facilities were traced back to college students returning in La Crosse last fall through sequencing. It also has been crucial in identifying new strains of COVID-19. Including five cases of B-1-1-7 or the UK variant between la crosse county and two nearby counties.
“The viruses arrived in this country most prominently in Florida and California, we’ve really seen it take over there and get a handle in those regions as well, probably doubling its presence every nine days,” said Dr. Kenny.
The new variant is easily transmittable, which requires greater social distancing and increased precautions.
“It seems really clear that this is a genuinely concerning variant with new properties that were not really present in the original COVID-19 strain,” said Dr. Kenny.
Other variants have also been identified by the lab; however, the South Africa variant is not in La Crosse yet.
“Another big concern is whether some of these substrains allow escape from some of the vaccines that we’ve been deploying,” said Dr. Kenny.
Dr. Kenny says research shows vaccines are effective against the UK variant, the way to slow the spread is the same as the original strain.
“The real tragedy about this COVID-19 pandemic is that we’ve been slow learners and fast forgetters,” said Dr. Kenny.
Wash your hands, wear a mask, and social distance.
In La Crosse, Hayley Spitler, First News at Nine.
Dr. Kenny adds getting the covid vaccine when eligible is another way to stop the variants.