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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A third coronavirus variant that was first identified in hard-hit India has been uncovered in Iowa, state public health officials said Tuesday.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said it has confirmed two cases of the variant, SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.
Health officials are still learning about the characteristics of this strain, but it is not designated as a variant of concern, “indicating that there is not currently evidence of increased transmissibility or more severe disease caused by this variant,” the agency said in a statement, noting the recent U.S. advisory warning against travel to the South Asian nation.
Virus cases are rising quickly in India, where COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 220,000 and confirmed cases have surpassed 20 million.
The World Health Organization said in an April 26 coronavirus update that a preliminary study based on genetic sequencing shows the variant has a higher growth rate than other variants circulating in India, “suggesting potential increased transmissibility.” The agency said further study is urgently needed to determine its potential for increased spread and more severe disease.
The Iowa cases were detected in two adults in Jefferson County in southeast Iowa. Public health officials are investigating to determine where they were exposed to the virus strain.
The State Hygienic Lab found the new strain during routine analysis of genetic sequence data.
Strains first found in the U.K. and Brazil have been identified as circulating in Iowa and are considered variants of concern because they spread easily and have the potential to cause more serious illness.
IDPH said with the variants circulating, it’s especially important for Iowans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. People also should continue to wear a mask in public places and practice social distancing when with people from outside the household.
Interest in vaccination has slowed in Iowa in recent weeks.
The Des Moines Register reported Saturday that Iowa turned down 71% of the COVID-19 vaccine supply it could have received from federal officials for next week, marking the second week the state has not had enough demand to accept the state’s full allotment.
The state asked to withhold 75,280 doses of the 105,300 doses it could have received.
Iowa has fully vaccinated 1.12 million people, or nearly 36% of the population, placing it 14th in the nation for the percentage of total population vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state reported 389 new confirmed cases and no new deaths on Tuesday.