A highly contagious version of COVID-19 has made its way to the United States from the UK. During a Capitol press conference Wednesday, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams says the state is keeping a close eye on the variation.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Dr. Randall Williams briefs Capitol reporters in Jefferson City on August 5, 2020 (photo courtesy of the governor’s Flickr page)

“We have not identified a case of the UK variant yet in Missouri,” says Williams. “It is in the Midwest. It’s in Illinois. It’s been in Indiana. Certainly, have seen that around the country. So, we are watching that very vigilantly. We get tests back and so far we’ve been blessed that they have come back negative. But that could certainly be a factor.”

The variation, known as B.1.1.7., has an unusually large number of mutations. The CDC says there is no evidence at this time to show that UK version of the virus causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University in St. Louis, says there have been other strains of the virus but they have not had a significant impact like this one.

“All that we are seeing right now is higher clusters of people, particularly in the United Kingdom and in South Africa,” she says.

Hlatshwayo Davis says the higher rates of transmission are another reason taking health precautions is necessary, such as wearing a mask, proper handwashing, social distancing, and getting vaccinated.

She says Pfizer and Moderna, who have researchers testing B.1.1.7. against the vaccine, think the drugs currently being used will be effective against the UK version of the virus.

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