Chicago, state public health confirm new COVID variant in Illinois
CHICAGO — The Chicago and Illinois public health departments have confirmed the first case in Illinois of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 first identified in the United Kingdom.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said on Friday that the case was identified by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine through sequencing analysis of a specimen from bio-banked samples of COVID-19 positive tests.
“This news isn’t surprising and doesn’t change our guidance around COVID-19. We must double down on the recommended safety strategies we know help stop the spread of this virus,” said Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. “In order to protect Chicago, please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not have outside guests in your home, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”
CDPH, IDPH and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with various public health agencies, are closely monitoring this strain.
“When we learned of this and other COVID-19 variants, we increased our surveillance efforts by performing genomic sequence testing on an increased number of specimens,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “We will continue to collaborate with our academic partners, local health departments like CDPH, hospitals, and the CDC to monitor for additional cases.”
A follow-up case investigation by CDPH found that the individual had travelled to the UK and the Middle East in the 14 days prior to the diagnosis. CDPH has worked to identify close contacts of the individual to reinforce the importance of adherence with quarantine and isolation measures.
“It is important to monitor the spread of virus variants,” said Dr. Egon Ozer, an assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Northwestern University. “We expected this variant to show up eventually. We will continue to sequence and study these samples.”
Some data show a higher concentration of the virus in the respiratory tract for the variant that could be related to a higher infectivity and easier spread of the variant, but this needs to be confirmed, Ozer said. Some modeling and molecular data also seem to indicate the variant may attach more strongly to the receptor of the human cell, but this also remains under study. Importantly, no data suggests an increased severity of illness, and early studies have shown the vaccine is still effective against this variant.