Infectious diseases doctor weighs in on COVID variant in Pennsylvania

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WILLIAMSPORT, LYCOMING COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed the first case of the new, mutated COVID-19 strain identified in the commonwealth. 

State health officials confirmed what doctors Eyewitness News spoke with feared was just a matter of time.

“We did report one case of the U.K. COVID variant in Pennsylvania, and that was travel related from outside the country,” said Dr. Rachel Levine.

The first case of the mutated strain in the commonwealth was found in Dauphin County.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday her office wasn’t surprised by the development, but that health officials will be monitoring it closely.

“This is not unexpected that we would see cases of the variant, I believe about 50 cases have been seen in the United States. We’re going to be watching that, with of course the CDC, very carefully,” Levine said.

Dr. Rutul Dalal is the Medical Director of Infectious Diseases at UPMC Susquehanna. He says the mutated variant is 65 to 70 percent more contagious than the pre-existing strain.

“That does not mean that it’s going to increase mortality, which, more people will die, or the vaccines, which we have now. The MRNA, Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, are going to become obsolete,” Dalal said.

Dr. Dalal says given how transmissible this mutation is, those tested safety measures are more important than ever.

“People should all the more be careful, watch for your three w’s. Watch your distance, wear your mask and wash your hands, because this is an extremely contagious strain,” he said.

And when members of the general population do have access to a form of immunization?

“Be diligent about getting your vaccines, and whoever can get it should take it. It’s very safe, it’s very efficacious,” Dalal said.

Dr. Dalal is extremely confident both approved FDA vaccines will protect against this new COVID strain. He says one of the greatest risk factors, is the transmissibility’s impact on already strained hospital systems.

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