By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

UK variant spreading in Oregon

The “principle variant of concern” in the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon is the so-called UK strain B.1.1.7, Brett Tyler, Director of Oregon State University’s Center for Genome Research told a group of journalists this week.

Tyler, who has been overseeing genome testing of sewage samples from around the state, said incidence of the B.1.1.7 variant is “rising rapidly in Oregon.

“That’s of concern because there’s evidence it can spread up to 50% faster than the original strain. The South African variant is also making an appearance both in the wastewater samples, and in the sequencing of individual samples. That also appears to be able to spread up to 50% faster; and there’s also some concern about that variant’s ability to resist some protection provided by the vaccines,” Tyler said.

However, he said, “Having said that, all the evidence shows that the vaccines are very, very effective against both the variants, even the South African strain. So I think that the message here is that people need to be responsible in their behaviors; stay distanced, wear masks and so forth while the vaccination gets ahead of the spread of these variants. And once a larger percentage of the population is vaccinated, the threat posed by these variants will be significantly decreased.”

Fifteen counties this week are returning to “extreme risk” status, requiring tighter restrictions on business operations, because of rising case counts. So far, Yamhill County is remaining in the high risk category. It would move to extreme risk if it sees 200 or more cases per 100,000 population, over two weeks, and a positive test rate of 5%, and statewide hospitalizations continue to increase by more than 15% a week.

The county’s was at 174.9 cases per 100,000 last week, and had a positive test rate of 5.3%. The county saw 189 new cases in the past two weeks; 125 in the previous two-week period, and 111 in the period before that, the state said. It reports that 40,864 county residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.

The weekly report released Wednesday by the Oregon Health Authority showed that for the week of April 19 to 25, the state registered a fifth consecutive week of a greater than 20% increases in new infections.

In addition, the percent of people testing positive increased from 5.3% to 6%. Hospitalizations nearly doubled, and deaths increased by 19 over the previous week.

Yamhill County reported 16 new cases on Thursday, bringing the county to a total to date of 4,266 cases. There have been 75 deaths in the county.

Statewide, as of Wednesday, 182,916 cases, and 2,490 deaths are on record.

The state said two schools in the county are seeing COVID-19 cases among students: McMinnville High School reported one case, on April 9, and Willamina Middle/High School reported three student cases on April 16.

Tyler said that in the early months of 2021, two variants from California were showing widespread incidence in Oregon, but those now appear to be being overtaken by the B.1.1.7 strain.

“The evidence suggests they can spread 20% faster than the original strain, whereas B.1.1.7 can spread 50% faster; so that may be a reason why the UK strain is taking over in the numbers,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people who are fully vaccinated may stop wearing masks outside, for small gatherings, athough they should continue wearing them in larger venues.

OSU Professor Courtney Campbell, who specializes in medical ethics, said the new rule is intended as “a kind of incentive, a kind of carrot for numbers of unvaccinated people in Oregon and throughout the country to encourage vaccination, then some of these other precautions that people have felt have been so hampering and so inhibiting of their return to normality can at least start to be pulled back a little bit.”

Professor Chi Chinhuei, director of OSU’s Center for Global Health, said it’s still important, especially for unvaccinated people, to avoid or restrict social gatherings, particularly indoors, although he noted that outdoor gatherings have also contributed to outbreaks.

The experts also discussed the recent concerns raised over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which in rare cases has caused a kind of rare, but serious, blood clotting in women.

Chinhuei said, “With all vaccines, there is some very small risk. It’s not just Johnson & Johnson; any vaccine has a small risk.”

However, he said, “Compared with the damage of contracting COVID-19; that small risk is much, much smaller than the other.”



Isn't it racist against the English to call it the UK variant?

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable