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State Epidemiologist comments on new strains of COVID-19

Friday, January 22, 2021

Dr. Jared Taylor, State Epidemiologist, released the following statement regarding new strains of the COVID-19 virus:

“To date, no significant presence of new variants of the COVID-19 virus have been confirmed by laboratory testing in Oklahoma. However, some initial test results have been identified that might be consistent with one of the new strains.

Recently, a small group of samples obtained from Oklahomans were examined for the possibility of mutations, including those associated with the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 (the 'U.K strain'). These samples were specifically identified because of initial test results that could be consistent with the ‘U.K. strain.’ 

This sequencing work was done in a research setting, not fully consistent with the approach advocated by the CDC for tracking the B.1.1.7 or other variants. The results suggest that mutations were present in several of them, including one that matched the profile of the B.1.1.7 strain. Because of the research nature of the work, the results are not definitive.

Regardless, state epidemiologists speculate that the ‘U.K. strain’ is likely already present and circulating in Oklahoma, as it has already been detected in other states with local transmission. This strain is more transmissible than the strain that has been in the U.S. today, and will likely spread faster.

We’re currently taking steps to track and identify any new strains. Right now, Oklahoma does not have a regular, systematic surveillance process in place for identifying new strains. Doing so requires sequencing of the viral genome, which is an involved process and isn’t routine. 

We have a communication out to labs to submit any suspicious samples for further investigation and will begin further surveillance efforts soon given the likelihood that one of the new COVID-19 variants has made, or will eventually make its way, to Oklahoma. We’re grateful to the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, in conjunction with the OSU Diagnostic lab, for their work in sample acquisition and sequencing.

Because the ‘U.K. strain’ is more transmissible, it is more important than ever that Oklahomans take precautions to protect themselves and others. Limit your exposure to people outside your own household and follow the three W’s: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.

As of right now, there is no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines currently in production won’t be effective against new strains of COVID-19 — so it is important to continue our progress through the vaccine distribution plan.

OSDH will continue to monitor for new strains and will keep the public updated on new information as it becomes available.”