A highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom has been detected in a woman from the Philadelphia area, officials announced Friday.
The woman, who is in her 50s and a resident of both Philadelphia and Bucks Counties, began experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus in late December, according to a news release from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. She was briefly hospitalized and is now recovering.
This marks the second time the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus has been found in Pennsylvania. The strain was also detected last week in a Dauphin County resident, who experienced mild symptoms and was exposed to the variant outside of the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the strain has been detected in 10 states.
While scientists continue to research the new strain of COVID-19, current data suggests the variant is more easily transmissible between people, according to a release from Penn Medicine. However, researchers say it does not appear to make people sicker, or that it has changed enough that the vaccines will not work.
“While it is still not proven that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible than other variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are concerned that it is present in Philadelphia,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. “Everyone in the area should take this information as a reminder to be even more consistent in wearing masks and keeping distance from others.”
David Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department, added that it is not unusual for a virus to change and mutate.
“We are not overly concerned about this development because all available evidence shows that the existing vaccines are effective against this variant,” Damsker said. “So long as that continues to be the case, we will treat this variant the same as our other cases.”
Evidence of the new strain in the Philadelphia region was detected via genetic sequencing by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, following an investigation by the Philadelphia and Bucks County health departments. The strain is difficult to detect, according to Penn Medicine, because it requires the added step of genetic sequencing testing.
“I don’t think it’s surprising to have found the variant here, as it has already been detected elsewhere in Pennsylvania and in many locations across the U.S.,” said Frederic Bushman, chair of Microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine. “All these detections support the idea that the virus is more infectious, and reinforces that we need to take the precautions we know work — wear masks, social distance, don’t go to crowded places, and get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you.”