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ADH says we should assume new, more contagious COVID-19 variant is already in Arkansas

We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Medical Director of Immunizations at Arkansas' Department of Health, to find out what will happen if new strains reach Arkansas.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Multiple states and countries have identified new strains of COVID-19. Some are causing so much alarm that locations like the UK are instituting additional lockdowns.

We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Medical Director of Immunizations at Arkansas' Department of Health, to find out what will happen if new strains reach Arkansas.

Q: What does the ADH know so far about this variant or variants?

A: There are many variants out there. Our variant of concern appears to be one that has changed so that it's more easily transmitted to cause infection. It does not appear at this time that it causes more severe disease.

Q: We have heard that people should not be surprised that COVID has mutated. This happens often with viruses, right?

A: Over time, there will be a new variants on the rise. The CDC is working with state health departments to monitor them. They've sequenced probably over 50,000 specimens to keep up with the kinds of changes that could be occurring.

Q: Are they pretty confident that the current available vaccines will be able to help protect against these new variants?

A: Yes. Variants like these that are a result of mutations would have to have mutations in all these different spots. And that's unlikely to happen. If it does happen, it's being monitored, and it is not hard to adjust the vaccines so that the new variant could be covered if the vaccine was not effective against it.

Q: Is the state of Arkansas doing anything to prepare for if we get a confirmed case of a new variant?

A: We should probably assume it may be here because it's very widespread and those same measures that we would use to protect against the variant are the same measures we would use to protect against other COVID-19 causing viruses. We really need to be quite diligent about wearing our face masks when we're out in public or with people who are not from our household. We need to be social distancing, avoiding crowds, or even avoiding trips.

Q: If it is here and we just don't know it quite yet, it makes following those guidelines even more important, right? Especially, if it's more transmissible.

A. Yes. We're having record numbers of cases and hospitalizations. These are things that people should take seriously regardless of whether that new strain is here or not.