Health expert on COVID-19 variant: ‘We need to redouble our efforts’

Coronavirus

Oregon's first case of the COVID variant is an employee of University of Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A senior health advisor for Oregon’s COVID-19 response is weighing in on the implications of a new variant strain of COVID-19 that was recently detected in the state.

A Multnomah County resident has tested positive for the new, faster spreading strain, which was originally identified in the U.K. The man is an employee of University of Portland.

A spokesperson for the University of Portland said they were notified Friday night that their staff member had the new variant of the virus. They said that person has been in isolation since that diagnosis.

Health officials are now working to understand what this new development means for Oregon in the battle to slow the pandemic’s spread.

Tim Menza, Senior Health Advisor for COVID Response, told KOIN 6 News the presence of the variant in Oregon means we need to redouble our efforts–wash our hands, wear masks and stay socially distanced.

This is the very first case in Oregon, though it’s already been identified in other states, such as California. Menza said fortunately this variant isn’t more deadly than the original version, but we have to stay vigilant because there’s still a long way to go before everyone is vaccinated.

“The main concern is, because it spreads more easily, we have to continue be vigilant about our physical distancing practices, our mask wearing, our avoidance of large gatherings, washing our hands,” Menza said. “But also it puts a little bit more pressure on vaccine response–trying to get people vaccinated more quickly because the variant spreads more quickly–it’s kind of a bit of a race.”

Menza said this particular variant is able to spread more quickly because of a small change in the protein on the surface of the virus that allows it to stick to the cells it wants to infect easier. He said it’s not a very large change and that the vaccine should still be effective. Preliminary tests from Pfizer reveal that their vaccine has been working just as effectively against this variant.

Manza said a collaboration between Oregon Health and Sciences University, University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Oregon State Public Health Laboratory are going to start sequencing the variant. This will allow them to better track instances of the strain that occurs statewide.

The University of Portland said the community members who’ve had close contact with the infected staff member have been in quarantine since Monday and they’ll begin pre-scheduled baseline testing next week. Students will still be allowed to move in Monday for the spring semester.

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