By Staff Report

Vermont health officials have confirmed detection of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7—the viral mutation first detected in the U.K. in the fall of 2020. This is the first lab-confirmed evidence of the variant in the state. The variant was detected in a specimen taken from a resident of Chittenden County.

Coronavirus and person wearing maskThe Vermont Health Department sends select samples from people who had already tested positive for COVID-19 to the Massachusetts Public Health Laboratory, Molecular Diagnostics and Virology program for genetic sequencing. The result has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants and strains are not unexpected. Many emerge and disappear, but others can persist and even become the predominant strain. The B.1.1.7 variant has already been identified in 49 U.S. states and territories. The CDC anticipates the more easily transmissible B.1.1.7 variant will become the dominant strain the country.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said confirmation of the variant in Vermont is a concern, but not a surprise. “This and other variants have been circulating throughout the U.S. for some time, so we expected to find evidence of it here. In fact, we are the last New England state where it has been detected.”

Dr. Levine said what is notable about the B.1.1.7 variant is that it can spread even faster than the virus that has been in the state. “The good news is that medical studies indicate the current vaccines are effective against this strain, and Vermonters should have confidence in the vaccines available,” said Dr. Levine. “We are moving to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and I ask everyone who is eligible for each phase to get vaccinated. But now that we know the variant is here, it is ever more important that everyone follow our guidance to prevent transmission—wear your mask, keep a distance of six feet from each other, and absolutely avoid crowded places. These steps continue to be effective against variants.”

Dr. Levine also urged people to take advantage of the ample testing available. “Not everyone shows symptoms of the virus, and you can’t know without testing if you have COVID-19. All these things are how we protect each other and bring this pandemic to an end.”

The samples sent for sequencing are de-identified for privacy purposes, assigned a number and sent to the lab in Massachusetts. As in all instances of positive COVID-19 test results, the individuals have received the appropriate guidance and recommendations by the Health Department for their care, quarantine and isolation, and contact tracing was performed.

Find more information about new COVID-19 variants here.