Two New Haven County residents under the age of 25 years old have tested positive for a new, more transmissible variant of SARS-CoV-2, the type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Medical experts say this variant, scientifically labeled B.1.1.7 and first discovered in the United Kingdom, appears to spread more easily and quickly. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.”
“What it means is if you’re standing 6 feet away from somebody for less than 15 minutes and you’re not wearing your mask, the chance of you getting infected if somebody nearby is infected has just gone up,” Gov. Ned Lamont said during a media briefing Thursday.
The state’s two cases are in residents between 15 and 25. They each recently traveled to Ireland and New York, respectively, and developed symptoms within three to four days of their returns, according to state officials.
Testing samples were taken from each resident earlier this month and ultimately yielded positive results. Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said people diagnosed with COVID-19 moving forward should assume that there’s a “good possibility” they have this variant.
“What that just means is take your isolation and quarantine recommendations very seriously,” she said. “Stay isolated and quarantined for the recommended period of time. And for all the rest of us, it means double down on the mask and the physical distancing and ventilation, etc.”
The SARS-CoV-2, B.1.1.7 variant is associated with a rise in cases in the U.K., which has just entered a national lockdown in an attempt to control the outbreak.
The variant has been detected in more than 27 countries and at least five other U.S. states, according to the CDC.
Contact tracers interviewed both Connecticut residents with the virus variant shortly after they were diagnosed, as well as their recent close contacts.
Scientists are reviewing how well current COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month will protect against the U.K. variant and a second variant appearing across South Africa.
Researchers and health experts believe that the vaccines being administered and manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech will work.
“Our current vaccines should be effective against this [U.K.] strain,” Gifford stated, “and we continue to urge everyone who is currently eligible to get the vaccine to do so.”
Dr. Syed Hussain, chief medical officer at Trinity Health of New England, said having an established foundation for coronavirus vaccines can help going forward if any changes need to be made.
“If the COVID-19 virus mutates like how the flu currently [does] on an annual basis, we have a solid mechanism to be able to give [a] vaccine at very, very quick notice,” he said. “The mRNA technology can be redeployed within four to six weeks, depending on the virus that is more prevalent.”
The state Public Health Laboratory began an enhanced surveillance testing strategy last week in response to the emergence of new variants, officials said. The laboratory has partnered with Yale and Jackson Laboratories to do genomic sequencing on COVID-19 positive samples to parse out variants.
The state will send positive test specimens to the two partner labs, who will perform the sequencing.
However, the surveillance is limited. Gifford said the state will not be able to do genomic sequencing on every case in Connecticut.
“We’re just doing the sequencing on a sample [size] to understand how, first of all, whether the variant was here or not -- now we know that it is,” she said. “And we’ll continue to do this sampling to see how frequently we find it.”
Gifford said if anything, the new coronavirus variant, which is driving surges in other countries, has underscored an urgency in COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
“It just highlights the importance of everyone who’s eligible getting their vaccine as soon as they can,” she said, “and for us moving swiftly as a state through these phases and getting every single dose that we have on the ground into somebody’s arm as quickly as possible.”