By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Four new strains of the coronavirus have been found in Wyoming over the last few months, three of which have been detected in Sublette County, according to health officials.
The Wyoming Public Health Laboratory recently analyzed genetic sequencing from a large batch of positive samples collected from residents across the state since November and found the four variants.
The new analysis, combined with previously reported results, showed at least 40 cases have involved a new version of coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), more than 40 cases involved two California variants (B.1.427 and B.1.429) and one case was diagnosed with a strain first seen in South Africa (B.1.351).
The three variants virus detected in Sublette County were the United Kingdom and California strains.
The county saw 17 new coronavirus cases last week, more than double than cases seen the week prior. As of Tuesday morning, the county had 12 active cases.
At least two cases of the U.K. strain were diagnosed in Sublette County. The strain is 50% more contagious than the original COVID virus and shows an increased severity in symptoms, based on hospitalizations and case fatality rates.
Four cases diagnosed in Sublette County involve the two California strains. Those strains have an estimated 20% higher transmission rate, and may cause a significant reduction in the ability of antibodies to fight the virus, as well as reduced effectiveness of some treatments.
Coronavirus cases are also increasing in counties adjacent to Sublette County, with Teton, Lincoln, and Sweetwater counties being classified in the state’s “red zone” for increased cases, indicating high transmission levels, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
St John’s Health in Jackson began last week with no coronavirus hospital patients, but by Friday, there were six hospitalized coronavirus patients.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, state public health officer and epidemiologist with the Department of Health, said it is likely all four of these variants have probably been involved in some of the COVID-19 transmission in Wyoming over the past several months.
“Because this is far from a comprehensive review of all positive patient samples, the true number and geographical spread of variants of concern in Wyoming is likely greater than what has been identified,” Harrist said.
Harrist indicated the variants are “of concern” because they each have been shown to be more contagious, have more serious symptoms and have shown resistance to some COVID-19 treatment options.
“Knowing these variants have been circulating in Wyoming doesn’t change our primary recommendations for the public,” Harrist said. “The best way for people to protect themselves from getting sick is to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which are available to the general public now throughout Wyoming. We still also recommend staying home when you are sick, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks in most public settings.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.
Multiple variants of the virus that causes the coronavirus have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that so far, vaccinations create antibodies that will help against the variants. Researchers are continuing to track this.
“Because the variants can affect the success of certain treatment options, we have shared updated information with healthcare providers across the state to help them help their patients,” Harrist said.