COVID Variants Are in Oregon

SALEM, Ore. — KDRV The Oregon Health Authority says that it has identified the first known case in Oregon of a coronavirus variant originally detected in Brazil.

The agency said that it was notified on Monday that a Douglas County resident had tested positive for the Brazil strain of COVID-19.

In South America, the Brazil variant of the virus — also called strain P.1 — has been linked to higher infection rates and is believed to be more capable of reinfecting those who have already recovered from an earlier strain. 

According to OHA, the Douglas County resident had known travel history before testing positive for the new strain. The individual is working with local public health officials and is following recommendations to self-isolate.

Since January, state officials have reported several known cases of the U.K. strain of coronavirus, B.1.1.7, in northeastern Oregon counties. An ongoing Oregon State University program that monitors evidence of coronavirus in city wastewater has detected several other variants, most of them considered to be more benign than the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil strains.

Cases of both the Brazil and South Africa strains were identified in the U.S. in January, with the U.K. strain detected in December.

Positive coronavirus cases have been dropping across the U.S. over the past two months amid the gradual roll-out of vaccines. However, the newer variants have become of increasing concern to health officials due to the possibility that the current vaccines will prove less effective in preventing infection or serious illness — particularly if the variants begin to spread widely.

Vaccine maker Moderna announced last month that the emerging strains of greatest concern appeared to have “no significant impact” on the efficacy of its product.

“The ability to evade vaccine-induced immunity . . . would likely be the most concerning because once a large proportion of the population is vaccinated, there will be immune pressure that could favor and accelerate emergence of such variants by selecting for ‘escape mutants,'” the CDC said of emerging strains at the end of January. “There is no evidence that this is occurring, and most experts believe escape mutants are unlikely to emerge because of the nature of the virus.”