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Scientists race to stop spread of COVID-19 variant


BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) – Researchers are racing to find and stop dangerous coronavirus mutations.

According to the CDC, there are now more than 600 variant cases of COVID in the US, tied to the strains first discovered in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa.

The United States fell behind the race and is now beginning to look for them.

Scientists say the problem has been lack of leadership and funding.

Recent testing found two UC Berkeley students infected with the UK variant – known to be more contagious.

Researchers at UC Berkeley have been monitoring the coronavirus since the pandemic and there hasn’t been any significant variation of the virus until the UK variant recently showed up in two students.

Stacia Wyman leads the sequencing effort within UC Berkeley’s innovative genomics institute.

She works at labs with machines that detect COVID-19 test samples, looking for highly infectious variants of the coronavirus.

Wyman’s team discovered the UK variant known as B117 in two students who both recently traveled abroad.

“This just emphasizes that the B117 is on campus, it’s more transmissible, we need to be extra careful, make sure we’re very vigilant, about wearing good masks and washing hands and staying socially distant,” Wyman said.

UC Berkeley officials have been urging students to stay inside their dorms to avoid community spread after a recent COVID outbreak.

The UK variant is known to be more contagious and may carry a higher risk of death.

The United States is now trying to stay ahead of the threat of dangerous COVID mutations but lack of leadership and funding has made research challenging.

“Each state has its own department of public health which are all struggling independently to try and get this done just like the states are now trying independently trying to get the vaccine out to everyone,” Wyman said.

According to the CDC, scientists have detected more than 600 variant cases in 33 states – tied to the strains first discovered in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa.

There’s worry the COVID-19 vaccine is less effective with the South Africa version.

“With the new strains coming up in the population, that makes it harder for the vaccine to work and the more cases we have of covid in the population, the more the virus is able to evolve and possibly evolve into strains that can escape the virus,” Wyman said.

As of Friday, the CDC reports 145 cases of the contagious UK strain in California and scientists to expect it to become the cause of most of this county’s new infections in a matter of weeks.

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