Researchers in the Baylor School Molecular and Esoteric Lab say they have discovered what is likely the U.K. COVID-19 variant in the Chattanooga area.
If their findings are confirmed by the state and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, it would be the first report of the variant in Tennessee. It will also mean that the variant has been circulating in Southeast Tennessee since before it was formally identified in the U.S.
The U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7 appears to spread more quickly but does not cause more serious or deadly illness than other COVID-19 variants.
Drs. Elizabeth Forrester and Dawn Richards were not actively looking for the variant but noticed it when data from a Dec. 8 test conducted in their lab appeared different from others. A second sample was identified on December 22, and a third on January 2.
Dr. Richards said their findings are supported by research from France, which is using the same method that the Baylor lab uses to screen for the U.K. variant on a national scale. The two researchers have been testing COVID-19 samples from regional providers since March 2020. Dr. Forrester estimates that they have tested around 100,000 specimens to date.