By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

UK variant of COVID found in McMinnville

The variant may be prevalent in McMinnville, according to OSU.

It’s the second time the UK variant, B.1.1.7, has been found in Yamhill County.

In January, a person from Yamhill County tested positive for the variant, which scientists have reported is significantly more transmissible, and appears more deadly. In a National Institutes of Health article published on March 30, Dr. Francis Collins reported that British researchers have found a higher risk of severe illness and death from the variant.

At least three other variants have been detected in Oregon over the past few months, including one researchers believe was a local mutation. However, the B.1.1.7 variant appears to be the most widespread, although limited tracking means the extent is unclear. To date, the OHA reports 18 cases of the variant have been detected.

Brett Tyler, Ph.D., the director of the OSU Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing, told the News-Register that “wastewater sampling is very useful community level surveillance, but it’s important to bear in mind that translating the viral RNA level in the wastewater to numbers of cases is an inexact science.”

“For example, the sample we obtain is very much affected by who happened to flush their toilet at a specific time, and on environmental conditions, such as recent rainfall.”

Nevertheless, he said, “based on a number of communities in which the TRACE project has carried out both prevalence estimates and wastewater monitoring, the prevalence of the virus in McMinnville could be in the range of 1 to 5 in 1000. Furthermore, based on the strength of the B.1.1.7 genetic signature in the viral RNA from McMinnville, we estimate that much of the viral RNA is attributable to B.1.1.7.”

County Health and Human Services Director Lindsey Manfrin did not respond to a request for comment on the findings.

Tyler said “the current wastewater data do not really tell us how quickly the virus is spreading,” but that, “according to the CDC, the B.1.1.7 variant can spread 50% faster and cause more disease that the original strain. So the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant does intensify the race between the vaccination program and the spread of the virus. So the more that everyone can do to slow the spread of the virus, and help the vaccination program get ahead, the better.”

McMinnville Water & Light has been participating for the last year in a project to test whether sewage sampling can help researchers track COVID-19, as waste matter can indicate presence of the virus in infected people.

Yamhill County reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the county to a total of 3,948 cases to date. There have been 70 deaths in the county.

Statewide, COVID-19 cases increased last week; by 28% over the previous week, however, hospitalizations and deaths decreased. According to the Oregon Health Authority, 10 people were reported to have died of the virus last week, which it said was “the lowest weekly total since last June.”

COVID-19 cases have been increasing nationwide, and CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy earlier this week warned that people must maintain precautions to avoid a dangerous surge. Many states have been loosening restrictions, or dropping them altogether as vaccinations increase, believing the worst danger over.

But epidemiologists warn transmissible variants are also spreading more rapidly, and that a fourth surge may be in the making.

OHA reported this week that an outbreak at Fircrest Senior Living in McMinnville, first reported in mid-February, is still considered active. It has resulted in 31 cases.

OHA also reports an active outbreak at Monrovia Nursery in Dayton, which experienced 11 cases since Feb. 2, with the most recent onset on March 4.

Yamhill County has said it is working with various community partners to offer vaccine clinics at some workplaces, including agricultural sites and food processing plants.

On March 31, OHA announced that 20 counties have been approved for expanding vaccinations early to the next group of eligible residents: Frontline workers, people living in multi-generational households, and people aged 16 to 44, with one or more health conditions that put them at elevated risk. Yamhill County was not on the list, however.


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