Two “California” COVID-19 variants have been identified in Sublette County, according to health officials there.
The county reported one case of B.1.427 and three of B.1.429 in a release Saturday. Both variants are more transmissible and more resistant to current vaccines than other strains.
These cases appear to be the first publicly reported instances of those variants in the state. The Wyoming Department of Health Tuesday confirmed four variants of the virus have been identified in the state, though it’s unclear exactly how long each new strain has been circulating.
The department conducted genetic sequencing “from a large batch of positive samples” collected since November. While just a sample, at least 40 of the cases identified were one of the two “California” strains. Forty cases of the “UK” variant B.1.1.7, first confirmed in Wyoming in January, were also identified.
“Because this is far from a comprehensive review of all positive patient samples, the true number and geographical spread of variants of concern in Wyoming is likely greater than what has been identified,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said in a release.
She added the variants are concerning “because they each have been shown to transmit more easily between people, may lead to more serious illnesses or may have resistance to some COVID-19 treatment options,” the release reads.
The release adds the state is not changing its current virus mitigation strategies.
“The best way for people to protect themselves from getting sick is to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which are available to the general public now throughout Wyoming. We still also recommend staying home when you are sick, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks in most public settings,” Harrist said.
While it’s natural for viruses to mutate, these strains have caused concern among health experts and vaccine researchers, who say currently deployed vaccines may not be as effective against these particular variants.
Researchers have also estimated the variants are roughly 20% more contagious than the initial novel Coronavirus. For reference, the “UK” variant, or B.1.1.7 identified in Wyoming in January is roughly 50-70% more transmissible, according to UK researchers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified both B.1.427 and B.1.429 as “variants of concern,” meaning some mitigation efforts are likely to be less effective. The CDC does report current vaccines will provide at least some immunity against these strains.
The CDC will classify more immediately threatening strains as “variants of high consequence.” No variants have so far been placed in this category.
Still, the spread of variants is slowing the U.S. virus response. New cases are 20% higher than at their lowest point nationally in March, surging as states roll back public health orders and other virus mitigation protocols, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
While the state believes the variants have been spreading for months, Wyoming’s virus numbers are still near the lowest point since before the surge last fall. No county is classified as “high” or “very-high” risk by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, whose metrics Wyoming officials have looked to for guidance.
Photos: Casper-Natrona County Health Department tours new mall vaccination clinic
Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes