New DHS data table tracks COVID-19 variants
For the Tomahawk Leader
WISCONSIN – The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) earlier this month released a new data table on its variant webpage (www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/variants.htm) that shows SARS-CoV-2 variant proportions by Health Care Emergency Readiness Coalition (HERC) region (www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/preparedness/healthcare/index.htm).
The variants page now also includes information on two additional variant strains of SARS-CoV-2: variants B.1.427 and B.1.429.
According to a release, DHS first identified the variants in Wisconsin in Dec. 2020, and is now tracking them and displaying them publicly following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent classification update on March 17, 2021 (www.bit.ly/3288V9f).
“The CDC has established criteria for identifying variants that may be more worrisome than others,” DHS stated. “DHS, using CDC’s criteria, publicly reports on variants of concern.”
“Improvements to our variant webpage provide timely information on variants circulating in the different regions of our state,” DHS said. “The new variant data tables show the proportion of sequenced specimens that are attributed to each variant of concern. This provides a better perspective on how common each variant of concern is regionally.”
The newest variants of concern, referred to as B.1.427 and B.1.429, were first discovered to be circulating in California in samples dating back to May 2020, according to the release.
“Variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 share many attributes, with the only significant difference found in their spike protein mutations,” DHS stated. “According to epidemiologic and modeling studies, researchers have found that both variants spread more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. However, these variants have shown to be less transmissible than variant strains B.1.1.7 and B.1.351.”
According to the release, as of April 8, 216 cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429 had been confirmed in Wisconsin since Dec. 2020.
Variants are identified through a process called whole genome sequencing. Whole genome sequencing takes a sample of the virus from a positive SARS-CoV-2 test specimen and reads its genetic code. DHS, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, and other laboratory partners regularly perform whole genome sequencing on a portion of positive tests, the release said.
“With new variants spreading in Wisconsin, we are updating our variant data page to include more detail about where these variants are being detected,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk. “Because these new variants of concern spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, it is important to get vaccinated when you are able. Vaccines, along with our other public health practices, give the virus less of an opportunity to spread and mutate.”
“As variants emerge, it is essential to continue public health practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” DHS stated. “Studies show that the current available vaccines provide protection against variants, but this is being closely investigated. Continue to wear a mask when in public, physically distance from others, stay home whenever you are sick, wash your hands frequently, and get vaccinated when you can.”