UT Austin confirms COVID-19 cases of more-contagious U.K. variant among campus community

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A letter went out Friday afternoon letting the University of Texas at Austin community know some members caught a more-contagious variant of COVID-19.

Earlier this week, Austin Public Health confirmed the first case in Travis County of B.1.1.7, which is the variant that originated in the United Kingdom.

In their letter to the UT community, Dr. Terrence Hines, the executive director and chief medical officer at University Health Services, and Dr. Amy Young, the chief clinical officer at UT Heath Austin, wrote, “Today, we are writing to let you know that the COVID-19 variant known as B.1.1.7 and first discovered in the United Kingdom has been detected through our proactive on-campus testing, monitoring and sequencing efforts.”

The two campus officials said UT can better detect variants through its Genomic Sequencing and Analysis Facility.

“Testing whether the virus is there or not is, I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it’s relatively straight forward,” said Andreas Matouschek, Director of UT’s Center for Biomedical Research Support. “Finding what virus strain it is is much harder”

UT stated the infected individuals now know they tested positive with the variant. They previously received notification of a positive test result, so they have been in isolation. The university shared public health workers already reached close contacts and advised them to self quarantine and get tested.

Dr. Hines and Dr. Young shared in their letter that virus mutations are expected.

“Often these mutations are inconsequential,” they said, “but occasionally the mutation involves changes to the proteins on its surface; this can make it less susceptible to drugs or the body’s immune system. Mutations can also give a new variant an advantage, such as helping it spread more easily, allowing it to become the dominant strain in a community. The university is continually monitoring for variants in its testing operations.”

UT will open an additional clinic this weekend to increase access to COVID-19 testing. This will last from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Jester West Fireplace Lounge. Walk-ups are welcome, but people can schedule appointments online.

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