COLUMBUS, Ohio — Researchers confirm finding the state’s second case of a COVID-19 variant officials said they fear has the same mutation that made strains discovered in the U.K. and South Africa more contagious.
The strain was first reported in Ohio on Jan. 12. Since then, “nearly identical” samples have been discovered in Michigan, Utah and Texas, and related viruses with additional mutations were reported in Wyoming and Louisiana, the researchers said.
“These viruses have collection dates from early November, 2020 to mid‐January, 2021 compatible with spread of this variant throughout the middle of the U.S. during that period,” Ohio State researchers wrote Tuesday as they reported they had found a second case in Ohio.
This strain shares the “S N501Y” mutation with variants first discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, and it is therefore believed to be more contagious.
“The rapid emergence of this variant across the Midwest merits close attention,” their preprint said.
The researchers sequenced 36 COVID-19 samples in December and 24, so far, in January.
Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said earlier in the week they feared a more contagious strain of the virus could become dominant in Ohio within two months.
The governor said the virus Ohio has been dealing with for months is already very contagious, making the prospect of an even more contagious variant frightening.
If anyone needed an incentive to get the vaccine, these discoveries should do it, DeWine said.
There are multiple more contagious strains that could potentially become dominant.
A second new variant in Ohio contains multiple mutations. The strain has been studied even less than the “S N501Y” mutation. But the preprint said there is good reason to fear this variant is more contagious and already very prevalent in the population.
Ohio State first discovered this variant the week of Dec. 21 when it was detected in just 1 of 10 samples. The next week, it was detected in 6 of 20 samples, then 6 of 10. The most recent analysis, released Tuesday, showed this strain was found in 8 of 13 samples.
In recent days, this variant has been discovered in multiple states in the upper Midwest, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Vanderhoff said it is now clear the state has a new challenge on its hands.
“At a high-level, what we're seeing is that SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is changing through a natural process of mutation to become more contagious. And it's happening not just in far-flung corners of the globe, but right here in Ohio,” he said.