Fayette County health officials have confirmed that the U.K. variant of the virus which causes Covid-19 has been detected in the county.

In a March 22 press release, the Fayette County Health Department reported that laboratory results have revealed a case of the highly infectious U.K. variant in a Fayette County person.

The variant is labeled as such because it is believed to have originated in the United Kingdom. It was reported in the United States in late 2020. Health officials say it is around 1.5 times more contagious than the wild type variant that has been previously circulating. Initial studies suggest that three Covid-19 vaccines in the United States provide strong protection against the U.K. variant and others.

"This is a reminder that, even though Covid seems less of a threat, we need to continue using all our tools to prevent another surge: wear masks in public, continue to physically distance, avoid both indoor and large gatherings, and get vaccinated when it's your turn," Fayette County Health Officer Dr. Anita Stewart said in a press release. 

Stewart indicated that, although the first U.K. variant case has now been recorded in her county, there are likely more such cases that have gone undetected in the local community.

"We can't say how widespread it is in Fayette County, but it's concerning," said Stewart. "We are seeing an uptick in cases over the last week.

"We must continue to be vigilant."

The presence of the U.K. variant was discovered as part of laboratory surveillance work during the pandemic, Stewart explained.

In an email interview, Stewart said, "Typical testing will detect either positive or negative, even if it is a variant. The genomic testing is by referral for reinfections, infections post-vaccinations, and superspreader events.

"We know that variants will present themselves with RNA viruses, and with the increased amount of the B.1.1.7 variant across the U.S. and in West Virginia, it was a matter of time before we found it here. We expected that this variant would predominate in (the state) this spring. The vaccines appear to be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, as well as reducing spread with behavioral measures such as masking, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, choosing outside over inside.

"We must not let off the gas this close to the finish line."

For Fayette County data and Covid-19 health information, visit https://dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19/Pages/default.aspx.

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Fayette County was orange on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' daily county alert system map on Monday. In the seven days through the morning of March 22, the county had 95 Covid-19 cases.

Much of Fayette County's recent surge in cases has occurred from school outbreaks based mainly on extracurricular activities, including 28 cases at Meadow Bridge High School, and a smattering of cases in several other schools. Fayette County Schools on March 18 revealed 10 more Covid-19 cases in county schools: four at Oak Hill High, three at Meadow Bridge High, one at Meadow Bridge Elementary, one at Midland Trail High and one at New River Intermediate. On Sunday, March 21, another single case was announced at Midland Trail High.

As of late last week, there was one active outbreak at a Fayette County church, and Stewart said that outbreak had reached 10 cases and was growing at the time.

"We're trying to keep the kids in schools, but really encouraging the parents to keep their kids home if they have any symptoms at all," FCHD Administrator Teri Harlan said Friday while helping oversee a Covid-19 vaccination event at the Gateway Center in Smithers. "A lot of the kids that we're seeing have symptoms that mirror allergies or just the common cold, and then they're tested and they have Covid.

"It's really important that people don't let their kids play sports or go to school if they have any of those symptoms, until they're tested."

On Monday, Fayette County Schools Superintendent Gary Hough echoed Harlan's sentiments.

"Parents, please do not send your children to school (with symptoms)," Hough said. He also stressed that members of the community continue to wear masks at sporting events and other gatherings as they're out and about in the community.

Continued vigilance will help the students remain in school and activities such as upcoming (outdoor) proms and graduations proceed as planned, Hough said.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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