UVMMC chief: “We should assume” new Covid-19 variant is in Vermont

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Confronting yet another challenge. This, as state health leaders say it’s only a matter of time until the new Covid-19 variant arrives in Vermont. 

“This new strain…we should assume it’s already in Vermont. If it is in Saratoga Springs, NY, we should assume it’s here,” said Dr. Stephen Leffler, University of Vermont Medical Center President. 

He says, Vermonters shouldn’t be surprised if the variant reached the state in as quickly as 5-10 days.  

“Some of the strains that we catch positive do naturally get tested further and we’ll know if it’s a different strain that’s here,” said Dr. Leffler. 

UVM Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Tim Lahey says a PCR test only shows if the virus is there, not the genetic code needed to detect the variant. However, the state plans to increase this kind of testing. 

“You could take that same sample and do the more laborious sequence to get that kind of really detailed data about what flavor of SARS CO-V 2 is this,” said Dr. Lahey. 

While it doesn’t pose a greater risk of death, the mutant virus is said to be 10-60 times more transmissible. But Dr. Leffler assures, the vaccines should still work. 

“All evidence shows so far, the vaccine is still affective against the new strain,” said Dr. Leffler. 

He says the state won’t implement genetic testing on all samples due to time and high costs, but Dr. Lahey says it doesn’t change current health advice – it just makes it more important to follow. 

“Once you know that that variant is in your area, the take home advice is really the same. You still want to wear a mask, avoid gatherings and get a vaccine,” said Dr. Lahey. 

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