Yale researchers find first cases of new UK coronavirus variant in Connecticut
Gov. Ned Lamont on Jan. 7 announced that Yale researchers in collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) detected the first two cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 in the state. This is the same variant initially discovered in the United Kingdom that is associated with increased transmission.
According to the DPH, the individuals both reside in New Haven County and recently traveled outside Connecticut — one to Europe and one to the state of New York. Genetic sequencing of the virus confirmed that the cases were unrelated.
The variant cases were rapidly identified through a strong collaborative network at Yale to increase surveillance for the B.1.1.7 variant. The nasal swabs were tested by the Yale Pathology Lab (YPL) and sequenced by the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH).
“Given the rapid emerging B.1.1.7 variant in the U.S., Yale Pathology Lab leveraged its close collaboration with YSPH to conduct rapid sequencing analysis in order to confirm positive samples with suspected molecular signatures of B.1.1.7 variant,” said Pei Hui, M.D., clinical director of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at Yale’s Department of Pathology. “Being able to capture the first cases of the UK variant in Connecticut speaks to remarkable teamwork at Yale.”
In addition, Nathan Grubaugh, assistant professor at YSPH, and his group are working closely with the DPH and local and national clinical diagnostic labs to enhance surveillance for the B.1.1.7 variant and other SARS-CoV-2 variants that may emerge. They recently received a gift from Fast Grants, a U.S. nonprofit that provides funding for scientific research related to the pandemic, to support these efforts.
“We developed a system to rapidly screen for and sequence suspected variant samples,” said Tara Alpert, a postdoctoral fellow in Grubaugh’s lab. “As a group we have all banded together to support this important public health initiative, both in our community and across the country.”
At this point the B.1.1.7 UK variant is still rare in Connecticut, Grubaugh said, but that could change if the state relaxes its commitment to health precautions. Personal protective measures, such as mask wearing and distancing in public, will still limit the spread of the variant.
“The B.1.1.7 variant is not assumed to be more deadly, nor is it expected that to have a significant impact on vaccine effectiveness,” said Grubaugh.