Faster-spreading COVID-19 virus strain shows up in Wisconsin

    COVID-19 CDC illustration
    This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (CDC Illustration) Image: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS (Photo via Centers for Disease Control)

    A variant of the virus responsible for COVID-19 has emerged in Wisconsin, the state health department announced Wednesday — one that first appeared in England and seems to spread more easily than the original virus.

    Both are strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, an infection primarily of the upper respiratory system. The resulting pandemic has been underway for a year.

    The new strain, identified as B.1.1.7, was first detected in England in November and December. The state Department of Health Services (DHS) reported that a laboratory working with the state had identified the strain on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

    “We already know that COVID-19 is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, and with this new variant appearing to be even more infectious, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask and physically distancing are even more important,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm stated Wednesday.

    DHS reported that the new strain was identified as a result of routine genome sequencing that is part of continuing public health surveillance.

    While the new strain spreads “more rapidly and easily,” according to DHS, the department stated that it doesn’t currently appear to cause more severe illness or higher risk of death.

    “All viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, change through mutation, and new variants of the virus are expected to occur over time,” according to a DHS statement Wednesday.

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    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.