WVU confirms presence of COVID-19 variant in community

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University confirmed three cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 have been detected in the Morgantown area—two are WVU students.

Genetic sequencing of samples from the WVU Medicine testing program detected the B.1.1.7 variant in Morgantown campus test samples analyzed last week.

The University is working closely with the Monongalia County Health Department in its case investigation and contact tracing. It is believed that the three individuals who have tested positive for the variant are related to one another and have not visited the WVU campus during their infectious period. 

“While this is not unexpected, it reinforces why it is so important to protect yourself and others by continuing to wear a mask when you are in public spaces and around others you do not live with, wash your hands frequently and carefully self-monitor for symptoms,” Dr. Jeffrey Coben, Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Public Health, said. 

The B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the U.K. variant, originated in the United Kingdom and is believed to be more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. Forty-two other states have reported 1,523 cases, including in all states bordering West Virginia; officials believe it will become the dominant strain in the U.S. within a month. 

Early reports indicate that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer protection against the B.1.1.7 strain. However, only 5% of the total U.S. population has received both doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is critically important that everyone (vaccinated and unvaccinated) continue to mask up, physically distance and wash our hands, particularly at  this time when there's light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Sally Hodder, director of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute and associate vice president for clinical and translational research at WVU, said. “We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

WVU is collaborating with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and Marshall University to conduct whole genome sequencing which is used to detect this variant and to help the state respond proactively and potentially mitigate outbreaks of new variants.

“The power to defeat this virus comes from our ability to focus on a higher purpose and to partner and share resources across the state and around the world,” Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID-19 Czar and vice president and executive for WVU Health Sciences, said. “There are so many talented and selfless people working for the right reasons around the clock, helping save lives and improve outcomes of all West Virginians.”