COVID-19 variant won’t make people sicker, it spreads more easy, La Crosse experts say

La Crosse healthcare officials brace for new COVID-19 variant after reports of the strain in Minnesota
Covid Variant

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Healthcare professionals in La Crosse say hospitalizations could rise due to a new COVID-19 variant.

People hear the word “mutation” and Hollywood movies may come to mind. However, this reality does not include the end of the world. The new virus strain first discovered in the UK is something health experts expected.

“We expect them to accumulate mutations or gain mutations along the way,” Megan Meller said, an infection preventionist with Gundersen Health System.

Meller said this new B-117 strain caught the eye of health care professionals for a few reasons.

“It accumulated a significant number of mutations in a very short amount of time,” she said.

This virus attaches to people’s cells better.

“Scotch tape vs Duct Tape,” she said. “It just binds a lot better.”

Mayo Clinic Health System’s Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said this will not make people sicker. This variant will increase the odds of people contracting COVID-19.

“If you were to cough or sneeze there’s more virus there to spread,” Fitzgerald said.

More illness could mean more hospitalizations. This could spell more problems than one according to UW-Health’s Dr. Jeff Pothof.

“It could be people with other medical conditions, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, can’t get the care that they need because the hospitals are overwhelmed with patients who need attention from this new variant,” Pothof said.

This is why he said people need to continue following health guidelines. In the meantime, researchers are identifying this new strain through genome sequencing. Dr. Paraic Kenny (Ph.D.) leads a team at Gundersen who have tracked COVID-19 strains to find out where each case originated.

The Minnesota Department of Health identified five people in the Twin Cities with this variant last week.

“When you have a positive COVID test, they can then take that sample, and then they do another test behind the scenes,” Meller said.

Meller said the work by these researchers and public health officials helps them stay in front of these mutations.

“The faster we can respond from a public health standpoint,” she said.

So far, nothing changes in how health care professionals are responding to the virus. Fitzgerald said the vaccine works for this strain.

“This is the most optimistic I’ve been for months,” Fitzgerald said. “We have treatments in the outpatient, we have a vaccine that works, really, quite well, and is remarkably effective.”

Experts say there are no reports of this variant in Wisconsin. However, they say it’s just a matter of time before the strain is reported here.