U.K.-Only COVID Strain Found in Chicago; SIU Identifies U.S. Specific Strain

By Benjamin Cox on January 18, 2021 at 12:18pm

The Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced on Friday the first case in Illinois of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom. The case was identified by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine through sequencing analysis of a specimen from bio-banked samples of COVID-19 positive tests. The new strain was first identified in the United States about two weeks ago in Colorado and has since been identified in several other states.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike says that the strain spreads quicker and people should double down on COVID precautions: “Although we have no evidence that this new variant causes more severe disease or more death, early studies do show that this variant spreads easier and more quickly. If we do not continue to wear our masks, watch our distance, and avoid gatherings; this new variant could sweep across the state as it swept across the U.K., and that would lead us back to a place that we don’t want to go.”

IDPH along with the CDC are monitoring and testing for this strain nationwide. A follow-up case investigation by CDPH found that the individual had travelled to the UK and the Middle East in the 14 days prior to the diagnosis. CDPH has worked to identify close contacts of the individual to reinforce the importance of adherence with quarantine and isolation measures.

On Thursday, researchers at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale said they had also discovered a new variant of the virus that is specific to and dominant in the United States, adding to the growing list of mutations. Associate Professor of Chemistry and biochemistry at SIU, Keith Gagnon, said his lab uncovered a novel U.S.-specific coronavirus variant that accounts for about half of the cases in the country. Gagnon’s work traced the earliest appearance of the U.S. variant to Texas in May. Gagnon says that U.S. Variant has acquired 2 new mutations since then, which correspond with the second and third waves of the virus over the past year. Analysis revealed the U.S. variant has not spread significantly beyond the country’s borders and that it was most highly prevalent in the Upper Midwest.

With the first vaccines still being administered in the U.S., Gagnon says it is unclear how this variant might impact the vaccines’ effectiveness.