Epidemiologist: More contagious COVID-19 variant 'will be more common' in Virginia

'We’ll be seeing it in more places.'
Posted at 12:02 PM, Jan 27, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- There are certain settings in which the new variant of COVID-19, known as B.1.1.7, could increase your risk of contracting the coronavirus, according to a health expert with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts.

Rebekah Butterfield, Richmond and Henrico Health Districts' Epidemiologist, said the B.1.1.7 variant was believed to be more contagious based on observation of how often health experts are seeing the virus strain in the population. But just how much more contagious, was still left to be determined.

"At this point, all we have is conjecture," said Butterfield.

She said if the strain is more contagious, it could increase your risk of getting the virus in settings where you can't maintain physical distance -- like at a party or even at your office.

But if you're already taking precautions, Butterfield said it shouldn't necessarily impact your day-to-day activities.

"I don't think that it makes going to the grocery store any more dangerous. If you're masking and physically distancing, it doesn't make any of those necessities any more dangerous," said Butterfield. "But it does really underscore the need to not go to work when you're sick, to keep that distance, whether at work, or socializing, or anywhere else."

The first case of the variant in Virginia was reported Monday in an individual in the northern part of the state, with no recent travel history.

"That would mean there's already community spread," said Butterfield. "I think soon, probably, we’ll be seeing it in more places. It will be more common -- even throughout our state."

Butterfield said that's not cause for alarm -- and actually to be expected -- but just another reason to play it safe.

"Right now, the same things that have protected us for the last year really continue to protect us," said Butterfield.

She urged the public -- even if 'COVID fatigue' was setting in -- to continue to wash their hands, keep their distance, wear a mask, and stay home when they feel sick.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.