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UW researchers warns UK Coronavirus variant might become dominant strain

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Earlier this week UW Madison researchers found proof that the more contagious UK variant of the coronavirus is here in Dane county.

For the past year David O'Connor and the rest of the researchers at the AIDS Vaccine Research Lab (AVRL) at UW Madison have been hard at work unraveling the genetic makeup of coronavirus samples.

"This allows us to follow the viruses through time and space to see how the viruses are changing and then how viruses in our community might be similar and dissimilar to those that are circulating in other parts of the country or other parts of the state," O'Connor said.

The AVRL is one of a few labs in the state doing genetic sequencing surveillance, but at a much higher rate compared to the rest of the country.

O'Connor says that while most of the country is sequencing at a rate of .3 to .5 percent of tests, they're doing 5 percent.

That allowed them to find the much more contagious B117, or UK variant, of the coronavirus, something that they had been expecting since the mutation was first announced.

"So it didn't surprise us, but you never like to see it," he said.

Now that they know for sure that it's here, O'Connor says he wouldn't be surprised if it becomes the dominant strain which might lead to another spike in cases.

"There will be an element of risk, but it's important to emphasize that the same control measures are going to work to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this UK variant as well," he said.

So he says people should not worry, and continue those practices that have led to the drop in cases we've seen over the past couple months.

"The more we can do as a community to protect ourselves from COVID in general, the more we can do to protect ourselves from this variant as it emerges," O'Connor said.

He says since the surveillance rate is so high compared to the rest of the country, he doesn't expect they'll have to go much higher.

While more infectious, scientists say the vaccines are effective against the UK variant.

Francisco Almenara

Reporter, WKOW

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