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UPDATE: New COVID-19 strain found in Eau Claire County

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 1:29 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU, WMTV) - The Eau Claire City- County Health Department says they found out that an Eau Claire resident had been confirmed to have the new COVID-19 strain, adding that they found out this information Wednesday.

The health department confirmed that the person had traveled internationally and only had close household contacts. The individual tested positive at the very end of December and they have completed their full isolation period. They were also never hospitalized.

Health officials add that this case is not expected to induce community spread as the person quarantined.

The variant strain does not appear to make people more ill but does spread quicker, added Director Lieske Giese. It is not known to have a higher death rate or more severe symptoms.

Doctor Ken Johnson from Prevea says in terms of testing more people for the new strain, health officials know the new strain is circulating but the way out of this pandemic is to act is if the strain is anywhere. He also added that it is unlikely that this new strain will be resistant to the vaccine.

“Usually the vaccine is aimed at several proteins, not just one, and it’s very highly unlikely that this variant would not be covered by the vaccine,” he said.

Giese asks people to continue to get tested, continue to stay six feet from others and wear a mask.

Johnson said it’s important people don’t let their guard down in the fight against the virus.

The new coronavirus variant originally found to be widely circulating in England has reached Wisconsin. Health officials say the new strain was found in Eau Claire County.

The Dept. of Health Services reported it confirmed the variant, which appears to spread more rapidly and quickly than the current strain, was here on Tuesday.

It noted that while apparently more contagious, the new strain does not seem to be deadlier or cause more severe COVID-19 symptoms.

“We already know that COVID-19 is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, and with this new variant appearing to be even more infectious, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask and physically distancing are even more important,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway had previously warned that the variant was likely already in the state after it was confirmed in neighboring Minnesota. DHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard noted mutations of viruses are “very common” and that coronavirus variants were expected.

“As time goes on in the pandemic and the virus continues to replicate on a large scale, the genetic sequence of the virus will change,” he said.

Westergaard also said his biggest fear is the new strain will lead to an increase in cases, which could potentially overwhelm hospitals.

“If there’s a lot more infections overall, even if the risk severe disease for any one infection is the same, that’s going to translate to more severe infections and more hospitalizations. So that is the way in which these pose a really important public health threat that we need to take seriously,” he said.

The mutated strain was discovered with the help of laboratory partners, DHS explained, by ongoing surveillance and whole genome sequencing.

Giese said the person who tested positive for the variant strain originally tested positive for the virus in late Dec. 2020. She said that person and their close contacts quarantined following the diagnosis, she doesn’t expect the case to create community spread.

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