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Sewage Testing Shows COVID-19 Variant Much More Widespread In Missouri Than Previously Reported

Dr. Randall Williams, the state's public health director, said chances of catching the coronavirus is now the highest its ever been in Missouri.
Dr. Randall Williams, the state's public health director, said chances of catching the coronavirus is now the highest its ever been in Missouri.

Missouri officials acknowledge that the COVID-19 variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom is much more prevalent in the state than the single case identified earlier this month suggests.

The B.1.1.7. variant, which is much more transmissible and possibly lethal than the standard COVID-19 virus, has been identified in sewage water throughout the state.

In a press release sent after business hours on Friday evening, state officials did not provide specifics about when or where the variant had been identified.

“The B.1.1.7. variant is present in samples collected from throughout the state,” the press release read.

It said that the variant is “not highly prevalent.”

The B.1.1.7. variant is thought to be 30 to 50 percent more transmissible, and studies suggest it may also be more deadly.

State officials had previous reported only a single case of the B.1.1.7. variant, which had been confirmed on February 6th in northeastern Missouri.

The variant was identified in more than 13 sewage systems, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Sunday. University of Missouri – Columbia virologist Marc Johnson said the variant made up less than 1% in most of the samples. However, it comprised higher levels — though less than ten percent — in two systems, according to the paper.

Johnson identified Hannibal, Missouri, as having a higher percentage of the variant, but he would not disclose the other system where higher levels were identified until getting approval from the state.

Missouri’s Department of Health and Humans Services did not immediately respond to inquiries from KCUR on Monday morning.

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