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State breaks down how some COVID-19 variants are worse than others based on current data

(NIAID-RML via AP)
Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 7:40 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the pandemic continues, more cases of COVID-19 variant strains are originating and being discovered around the world and some have been detected in Alaska. In a recent report released by the state, these variants are now being classified as either ‘variants of concern’ or ‘variants of interest.’

On Monday, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, explained the difference. Variants of concern are strains of the virus that have changed in a way that makes them significantly more dangerous. For example, the B.1.1.7 variant – which has become known as the variant that originated in the United Kingdom – could be more contagious based on the current data.

As of Feb. 24, the state’s variant report shows there have been two of the U.K. variants identified in Alaska. The P.1 variant, commonly known as the Brazil variant, is also identified as a variant of concern.

Other variants have been detected in Alaska. Ten cases of the B.1.429 variant – said to have originated from California – have been reported in Alaska since early January, according to the report.

There have also been three cases of the P.2 variant reported in Alaska, which is also said to have come from Brazil originally. The state classifies this variant as a variant of interest, however little is known about it right now.

Zink said Monday that it’s highly unlikely that an individual will be informed if they are sick with a variant of COVID-19 because of how sharing a patient’s information works under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program (CLIA).

“There are very few sequencing labs that are CLIA waived to report that information back,” Zink said. “There are starting to be privately available sequencing information that can be reported back to the individual, but the state sequencing data is not CLIA waived from that perspective. It’s really not meant to be an individual response back, it’s meant to be an overall system to look at what’s the predominant strain at this time.”

Regardless of whether a variant is of interest or concern, Zink repeated that there is little to no evidence to suggest that the variants are resistant to any of the vaccines currently available. The state’s top priority regarding variants is to continue getting as much of the public vaccinated as possible.

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