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COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: Dept. Of Health Confirms First Case With COVID-19 Variant In Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG (KDKA) -- Pennsylvania has a case of the new coronavirus variant B.1.1.7.

"It does represent the most serious change to the virus since the pandemic began," says Dr. Marc Itskowitz, a primary care internist at the Allegheny Health Network.

"We detect it by doing genetic analysis," explains Pennsylvania State Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, "We expect to see more cases of the variant in Pennsylvania and the United States."

The case is in Dauphin County. The person had mild symptoms, isolated at home, and has recovered.

"It was a travel-related case. It was not a community spread case," says Dr. Levine.

"We have known about this variant since mid-December when it was first identified in England. And we expected it would travel to the United States. It was in many other states prior to Pennsylvania, so it is no surprise it is now being identified here in Pennsylvania," says Dr. Itskowitz.

So far, the CDC has found more than 50 cases of the new variant in the U.S.

"We are sending samples on a regular basis from our lab in Exton as well as other laboratories in Pennsylvania to the CDC for this genetic analysis, and we will be working on developing the protocols to actually do that genetic analysis here in our lab in Exton," Dr. Levine says.

Existing vaccines will still prevent the new variant.

"There will be no difficulty with the vaccine producing an immune response that will be able to prevent this strain," says Dr. Levine.

As for the Pittsburgh area, it's only a matter of time before a case appears here.

"This strain is at least 50% more contagious, or more transmissible, so if it isn't already here in Pittsburgh, it will likely be identified here soon," says Dr. Itskowitz, "Fortunately, there's no increased risk of mortality with this variant. But unfortunately, there will be more cases. It'll put more strain in general on the health system with more cases."

The new variant quickly became the dominant coronavirus in the U.K. Dr. Levine says, at this time, it is not dominant here.

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