Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

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Four coronavirus variants are circulating in Wyoming, at least as far as the Wyoming Department of Health knows.

In a press release Tuesday, the department said genetic testing at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory had found cases of four strains other than the original SARS-CoV-2. Using positive tests collected in state residents since November, the department found 40 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the United Kingdom; 40 combined cases of the B.1.427 and B.1.429 strains first found in California; and one case of the B.1.351 variant that arose in South Africa.

The Health Department doesn't sequence every positive sample, so it is unlikely that these represent all variant cases that have shown up in Wyoming.

“Because this is far from a comprehensive review of all positive patient samples, the true number and geographical spread of variants of concern in Wyoming is likely greater than what has been identified,” State Health Officer and epidemiologist Dr. Alexia Harrist said in a statement.

Viruses mutate all the time as they reproduce and spread. Some variations don't end up being beneficial for the virus, so they aren't usually concerning for public health officials. The four variants identified in Wyoming are thought to be either more transmissible or more deadly, or both, meaning they pose a higher risk to people. 

Like the one first found in South Africa, they may also have some resistance to treatment methods or vaccines.

Ultimately, the variants don't change much about the guidance from the Health Department. Unless cases skyrocket across the state, Gov. Mark Gordon has indicated he wants Wyoming to move in a less restrictive direction, rather than toward imposing more rules. 

Instead, the Health Department is reiterating the guidance for individuals that it has had in place for about a year.

“Knowing these variants have been circulating in Wyoming doesn’t change our primary recommendations for the public,” Harrist said. “The best way for people to protect themselves from getting sick is to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which are available to the general public now throughout Wyoming. We still also recommend staying home when you are sick, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks in most public settings.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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