xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Maryland labs being used to test patient samples for new coronavirus variant

The Maryland Department of Health is collaborating with regional and federal partners to test patient samples for infection with the new, potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are collaborating with the Maryland Health Department’s public health lab, as well as state laboratories in California and Delaware to test for the variant. There have been at least two cases of the COVID-19 variant identified in the U.S., one in California and another in Colorado, though public health experts fear that it already could have spread more widely than is known.

Advertisement

The variant has not been detected in Maryland, health department spokesman Charles Gischlar said in an email. But Maryland public health officials are maintaining a high level of vigilance for the new strain in the state, he added.

A faster-spreading COVID-19 variant could have devastating consequences for the U.S. health care system as the nation experiences a surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It also raises questions about the variant’s pathway into the U.S., as well as its receptiveness to now-routine treatment and testing methods.

Advertisement

This variant is estimated to have first emerged in the United Kingdom in September, according to the CDC. Canada has also reported cases in its borders.

So far, medical professionals do not believe that the new variant is more deadly than existing ones or that it will not respond to vaccines, according to the CDC. But it could much more contagious, making the coronavirus pandemic even harder to contain and abate.

“Scientists are working to learn more about these variants to better understand how easily they might be transmitted and whether currently authorized vaccines will protect people against them,” the CDC wrote in a post on its website last updated Wednesday. “Currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. New information about the virologic, epidemiologic, and clinical characteristics of these variants is rapidly emerging.”

There are multiple variants of the coronavirus circulating, according to the CDC, including one most prevalent in South Africa and one in Nigeria.

Maryland and other states began rolling out vaccinations to the public two weeks ago, starting with health care workers and nursing home residents and their caretakers. The general public may not be able to get vaccines for several months.

Public health officials view vaccinations as a critical turning point in restoring some normalcy to daily life, which has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. A faster and more efficient-spreading variant of the coronavirus could increase the need for more widespread vaccinations, which has kicked off to a slow start across the country.

In Maryland, 47,012 people have been vaccinated as of Thursday, according to state health department figures. Nearly 80% of the vaccine doses Maryland has on hand has yet to be dispersed.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alex Mann contributed to this article.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement