Doctors say new COVID-19 variant now detected in Waukesha County is deadlier, more contagious

NOW: Doctors say new COVID-19 variant now detected in Waukesha County is deadlier, more contagious


WAUKESHA COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) - A second case of the more contagious COVID-19 variant known as B.1.1.7, originally discovered in the U.K., has been identified in Waukesha County.  Researchers say this new variant was known to spread quicker, but now a new study says it’s also deadlier.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says the second case was found on Feb. 6. The case is now being closely monitored by the Waukesha County Health Department.

“We’re detecting a tip of the iceberg, and it’s likely that there are other cases that have not yet been detected,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard didn’t say how the person in Waukesha County contracted the strain, but says the likelihood of community spread in the state is high. He says less than one percent of COVID-19 samples in Wisconsin are sequenced to look for new strains.

“If not from -- necessarily from this particular case, but through the amount of interstate and international travel that is still happening,” he said.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Waukesha County Health Department says in part:

“The case that was detected in Waukesha County was identified after testing positive for COVID-19. That individual was successfully contact traced and instructed to isolate. We are working in cooperation with DHS to gather additional details to facilitate statewide monitoring.”

“It could very quickly take over and become the dominant strain, and with the timelines we’re seeing, that could potentially happen in the next one to two months,” said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director at Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Dr. Weston say there are three aspects that make B.1.1.7 dangerous. He says a new study in the U.K. reveal it’s 70-percent more contagious, 35-percent deadlier and some findings show it could even evade the immune system.  The increased transmissibility could play a big factor in whether B.1.1.7 becomes the next predominant strain.

“What we’ve heard from other states that have detected a larger number is that a substantial number of them have not had international travel,” said Dr. Westergaard.  

“We’re really up against a timetable here to try to vaccinate people as fast as we can to blunt that spike as much as possible,” Dr. Weston says.

Health officials say case numbers are currently trending in the right direction, but stress now is not the time to let our guards down.

“I think we should be pleased with the progress we’ve made, but we should be vigilant and really take seriously the risk that a second and additional wave could occur,” Dr. Westergaard adds.

Dr. Weston says the increased contagiousness of this variant will make it much more difficult to control another spike. He says it’s hard to control how a spike from new variants would affect case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.

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