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COVID variant found in NOVA

As counties in the Piedmont Health District continue to see large weekly increases in COVID-19 cases, the first case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant in the commonwealth has been identified.

In a Monday, Jan. 25, press release from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS), officials announced the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 was recently identified in a sample from an adult resident of northern Virginia with no reported recent travel history.

According to the release, the B.1.1.7 variant first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020. The mutation is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

The release states DCLS confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing, which provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19.

DCLS has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the case.

In the U.S., approximately 200 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected in 23 states as of Jan. 22.

And while scientists are still working to better understand this new variant of COVID-19, early data seems to suggest vaccines currently being rolled out are still effective against B.1.1.7.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA, was quoted in the release. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures.”

According to the release, as a virus spreads from person to person, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Because of these mutations, new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.

And according to the CDC, multiple variants of the coronavirus have been documented in the United States and around the world.

The B.1.1.7 variant contains an unusually large number of mutations.

With the news of the new variant’s arrival in the commonwealth comes a continued large increase in local virus cases.

According to the VDH, Prince Edward County increased 123 new cases from Monday, Jan. 18, to the following Monday, Jan. 25, for a cumulative total of 1,562 county-wide cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Buckingham County is up 130 cases this week for a total of 1,772.

Cumberland County continued its recent case spike this week, rising 39 cases for a cumulative total of 39.

Charlotte County saw 71 new cases of the virus throughout the county this week, bringing Charlotte’s case total up to 589. Lunenburg experienced 52 new cases for a total of 549.

With that increase in cases comes an increase in the number of COVID-positive individuals in the local universities and correctional centers.

Longwood University in Farmville was reporting 48 active COVID-19 cases among students, faculty and staff as of Jan. 25, although it’s been noted some individuals counted in that number may have delayed their return to campus following winter break.

On Monday, Longwood Assistant Vice President of Communications Matt McWilliams said Longwood was not an exception to the trend seen across the commonwealth of recent, sharp upticks in university COVID-19 cases.

He said there are currently 19 students quarantining or isolating in the university’s ARC Hall dormitory, adding that 12 students who are contact exposed but have no symptoms are actively quarantining in their residence hall rooms across campus.

The ARC, according to McWilliams, has more than 40 beds for isolating students, although it is not the only resource the university has in place for students who contract COVID-19.

“If needed, we are able to quickly open up additional spaces managed by Longwood to safely house students,” he added.

As of a Sunday, Jan. 24, update, Hampden-Sydney College was reporting 20 active COVID-19 cases out of its campus community, with 60 individuals actively quarantining.

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was reporting an apparent new COVID-19 outbreak at the Dillwyn Correctional Center (DCC) in Buckingham County on Monday, with 54 offenders on-site and one in hospitals actively diagnosed with COVID-19. DCC was also reporting 12 staff cases of the virus on Monday.

Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC), also located in Buckingham County, was reporting 11 offender cases and 11 staff cases Monday. Lunenburg Correctional Center (LCC) was listed as having eight COVID-positive offenders and four positive staff Monday.

In Farmville, the Piedmont Regional Jail (PRJ) continues to battle a recent outbreak at the facility.

On Monday, PRJ Superintendent Jerry Townsend said the jail has recently seen an increase in the positivity level of staff.

Townsend said Monday afternoon there were nine employees at PRJ who had tested positive for COVID-19, with three employee test results pending.

Townsend said the offender population has declined slightly in positive cases, with 11 male offenders actively diagnosed with COVID-19 as of Monday. He added four offenders, two males and two females, were displaying coronavirus symptoms and had pending test results.

“The 11 positive offenders are scheduled to be cleared to return to the general population on Wednesday, February 3, 2021,” Townsend wrote in a Monday, Jan. 25, email.

He added vaccines for PRJ staff are scheduled to be administered at the jail Tuesday, Jan. 26, for all requested staff. The vaccine will be administered to the population on a weekly basis until completed.

He added PRJ will continue to remain on lockdown status until there are no more positive inmates or those with symptoms, at which point the jail will implement modified inmate movement inside the facility.

“The administration continues to require that staff and offenders adhere to CDC and VDH guidelines for COVID. Again, the safety of staff and offenders continues to be a priority at PRJ,” he said.

Vaccine distribution is slowly picking up speed across the health district.

On Monday, VDH listed Prince Edward County as having 1,062 residents who had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 109 individuals fully immunized.

Buckingham County on Monday showed 475 vaccine doses administered and 66 fully-vaccinated residents.

Cumberland County has had 195 of its residents vaccinated, with 14 individuals fully vaccinated as of Monday.

The number of Charlotte County residents vaccinated as of Monday was 479, with 40 fully-vaccinated citizens being reported. Lunenburg County has vaccinated 351 of its residents, with 40 vaccine recipients fully immunized.