The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced that a case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Northwest Virginia who recently returned to Virginia after international travel. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. A preliminary report from experts in the United Kingdom indicates that this variant causes more severe illness than other variants, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding.
The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. DCLS has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the case. In addition to this case in the Northwest Region, Virginia has now identified three cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the Northern Region, for a total of four cases with the B.1.1.7 variant in the Commonwealth. With our surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases will continue to be identified in Virginia.
Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new strains as disease spreads. As our state public health officials closely monitor for the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant and other variants in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures. This means wearing a mask, staying at least six feet from others, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.
DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. To date, DCLS has sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples received by the state lab, and is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.
For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.