At least three cases of the easily spread variant are confirmed. Experts encourage people to continue with safety measures and the vaccination process.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Scientists of INNO Diagnostics and Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) of the Ponce Research Institute (PRI) confirmed on Thursday they detected the B.1.1.7. COVID-19 variant in Puerto Rico.
Scientists worldwide are keeping an eye on the so-called UK variant—as well as three others which have surfaced during the past few months—because they are more contagious.
“As [the UK variant] is more contagious, it implies a situation of 80% asymptomatic patients, 20% with symptoms, and more hospitalizations and deaths,” Dr. Víctor Ramos, president of the Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons told The Americano.
PRI, which is affiliated with the Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU), began analyzing results of molecular tests in December to see if there were variants. The results indicate the UK variant may have arrived on the island in November. As of Thursday, there are three confirmed cases and seven possible cases.
The origin of the UK variant in Puerto Rico has not been determined. Ramos said travelers may have brought the virus. According to data from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 315 positive cases of the variant in the United States; Florida, the state with the largest Puerto Rican population, and California top the list with 92 cases, as of Jan. 27.
Ramos said the level of contagion of the UK variant is so high, there are places where its positive cases exceed those of the original virus.
“There are places where hospitalizations and cases have decreased when it comes to the original virus. As far as the variant is concerned, the cases have increased,” Ramos said. “In Portugal, the drop in cases of the original virus and the increase of cases of the variant are both dramatic.”
On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “it makes common sense” to wear two masks in order to be more protected against variants.
Ramos, who belongs to the scientific coalition advising Gov. Pedro Pierluisi on pandemic safety measures in Puerto Rico, said the group will give their latest recommendations taking variants into consideration. The current executive order is effective until Feb. 7.
The doctor also said people should continue to observe safety measures even after getting vaccinated. He stressed the importance of continuing with inoculation because preliminary studies indicate vaccines are effective against the variants.