‘When, Not If': NC Officials Watch For New Coronavirus Strains

Jan 5, 2021
Originally published on January 5, 2021 11:11 am

North Carolina health officials said on Monday that they are watching for new strains of the coronavirus in the state. One variant of the virus first spotted in the United Kingdom appears to be more contagious than previous versions, though there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or is more deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“To my knowledge, there haven’t been any identified cases in North Carolina,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, an infectious disease physician at Charlotte-based Atrium Health, told reporters on Monday afternoon.

But Passaretti said she does expect the new variant will appear.

“We will see it in the state. It’s not so much a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when,’” she said.

Detecting a new strain is “dependent on doing the typing to know whether that strain is present or not,” Passaretti said. In an emailed statement on Monday, a spokesperson for North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services said that the agency is working with the CDC to “enhance surveillance.”

The statement said the State Laboratory of Public Health was increasing the number of COVID-19-positive specimens it submitted to the CDC’s national surveillance program that looks for new coronavirus strains.

Both Passaretti and the DHHS statement said the current COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be effective against the new strain but that “studies are pending” to confirm this.

Health care workers across North Carolina, including thousands in the Charlotte area, are set to receive their second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as early as this week. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require two shots — three weeks apart and four weeks apart, respectively.

Passaretti became the first person in North Carolina to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 14. She said she experienced a sore arm but no other side effects. She got her second dose on Monday afternoon.

“It was very much like the first one. No problems immediately after the vaccine — really felt no different than the first time around,” she said.

Atrium said that as of Sunday, 13,540 health care workers have scheduled an appointment to receive their second vaccine dose. Charlotte’s other large hospital system, Novant Health, has also been administering Pfizer vaccines. About 3,300 Novant employees received an initial Pfizer shot roughly three weeks ago, though it was not clear as of Monday afternoon how many had received a second injection.

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