The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed the first variant case of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth on Thursday.
“We expect to see the variant. We expect to see more cases of the variant in Pennsylvania and in the United States,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, PA Secretary of Health.
The new strain of the virus, also known as the UK variant or B.1.1.7, was first confirmed in the United Kingdom and has since been spotted in Colorado, California, Florida, and other states, according to Dr. Levine.
Pennsylvania’s first case of the variant came from Dauphin County near Harrisburg after the person had traveled out of the country.
We reached out to local health officials and local hospitals to see if they’re prepared, if this variant were to travel to one of our counties.
“We’re concerned because of the virulency of this new particular strain, but we’ll keep an eye on it and try and be as proactive as we have been in dealing with it,” said Art Martynuska, Emergency Management Coordinator for Cambria County.
Bedford County officials are also aware of the possibility for the new strain to travel here.
“We are preparing the very same way that we have prepared for the original COVID-19. We’re trying to find as much PPE as we possibly can for responders. That’s going to be a key here,” said Dave Cubbison, with Bedford County EMA.
Dr. Levine says, as for the vaccine, she believes that it will prevent this new variant too.
“The vaccine experts anticipate that there would be no difficulty with the vaccine producing an immune response that would be able to prevent this strain,” said Dr. Levine.
Dr. David Csikos, the Chief Medical Officer at Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber, issued a statement to 6 News about the UK variant.
He writes, “This new variant could be 70% more contagious; however, I am not aware that the new variant is more deadly. There are no special precautions, and we remain prepared and vigilant. There’s no reason to panic now; we should expect all viruses to mutate.”
Officials at UPMC say this is not necessarily a cause for alarm, but a need for continued precautions.
According to UPMC’s website, Dr. Lee Harrison, Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, states, “There is evidence that the new strain is more contagious, but does not cause more severe illness.”
At Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, officials there say they’re watching out for the this variant.
“Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center continues to take all the necessary precautions to protect our patients and staff from all strains of COVID-19, including limiting entry points to the facility, screening all individuals for symptoms of COVID-19, universal masking and maintaining a strict zero-visitation protocol,” said Kyle Adams, Marketing Communications Coordinator at Conemaugh.
While there is still unknown information about the UK variant of the virus, the officials agree in saying safety protocols are more necessary now than ever.
“It doesn’t change any of the precautions that we’re urging people to still take, washing your hands, socially distancing, wearing masks, no large groups of people. That all still comes into play. Obviously, we’re encouraging people to get inoculations and vaccinations when they become available to them,” said Martynuska.