MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A variant strain of COVID-19 virus has been found in Tennessee, the state department of health said Thursday.
Two cases of the B117 variant strain of SARS-CoV-2 have been identified in Tennessee and confirmed by the CDC, the department said in an email. Seven samples have been sent to the CDC.
That makes Tennessee one of 20 states reporting variant strains of the virus.
State health leaders say they expect this will become the dominant strain in the state by March.
“These variants have probably been here for a little anyway. It’s not a surprise they’re here at all,” said Dr. Steven Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist with Baptist Hospital in Memphis.
According the the CDC, the B117 strain could be more contagious and spread more quickly, though it is not necessarily more deadly.
“If it transmits more easily it’s more likely there will be bigger case numbers and wider case spread,” said Dr. Lisa Piercey with the Tennessee Department of Health.
The state did not specify where the strain was found, but said viruses constantly change and new variants were expected. They reminded Tennesseans to continue practicing social distancing, limit gatherings, wear a mask and wash hands.
Tennessee on Thursday reported 3,492 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 697,783, and 128 new deaths, for a total of 8,684.