BURLINGTON, Vt. — Vermont officials say a COVID-19 variant that spreads more easily and may lead to a higher risk of death is likely present in Burlington, the state’s largest city.
The Vermont Department of Health announced in a news release Thursday that wastewater testing in the city detected two COVID-19 virus mutations associated with the B.1.1.7 variant, which is believed to have originated in the United Kingdom.
That variant spreads faster and more easily than the more common version of COVID-19 and may be associated with an increased risk of death, compared to other variants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC says early reports indicate it does not have any effect on vaccine efficacy.
The B.1.1.7 variant had been detected in 34 states as of Monday, though not in New Hampshire, per the Vermont Health Department release.
“This is a new stage of the pandemic here in Vermont,” state Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in a prepared statement Thursday. “It is not, however, surprising. We expected that variants could be circulating in Vermont, and now that looks to be the case.”
The state Health Department cautioned that the city’s findings are not definitive proof the variant exists in Burlington, since wastewater sampling — laboratory analysis of sewage from many homes — looks only for the two mutations detected. State health officials will work to confirm its presence, the release states.
There were more than 13,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Vermont as of noon on Thursday, according to the Health Department. Nearly 12 percent of the state — 68,000 people — have received at least one dose of a vaccine, the agency said.
Levine urged residents to follow public health guidance and get tested, since some cases of the virus are asymptomatic.
“It is extremely important for everyone to take every step to help prevent getting and spreading the virus, even as our vaccination efforts continue — wear your mask, keep a distance of 6 feet from each other, and absolutely avoid crowded places,” he said in the release.