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COVID Variants Becoming The Norm in Illinois

A Reditus employee analyzes COVID-19 tests at the lab in Pekin, Ill.
Reditus Labs
A Reditus employee analyzes COVID-19 tests at the lab in Pekin, Ill.

COVID-19 variants are now becoming commonplace.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the B.117, or the variant of COVID-19 first detected in the United Kingdom, is now the most common in the United States.

Dr. Aaron Rossi of Pekin's Reditus Labs says that is likely true in Illinois, as well, based off recent tests from across the state processed by his company.

"It's certainly become the dominant strain, or becoming, if it's not completely identified as the dominant strain," Rossi said. "In the data in the database, our research definitely correlates to what we're seeing, as well."

Of 323 positive tests collected last month and pulled last week for sampling, 50 percent were the B.117 variant.

Sixteen were the P.1, or the variant first discovered in Brazil, which is considered by scientists as potentially the most troublesome of the current crop.

"In regards to the P.1 or Brazilian variant, that is vaccine-resistant. And it's been shown to be more pathogenic," Rossi said. "So severity of the condition, and once you're infected, it's been shown to be worse, as well."

The first reports of COVID variants in the Peoria area were disclosed by the Illinois Department of Public Health last month. The Peoria City/County Health Department has declined to provide many specifics, such as whether the variants are believed to be attributed to travel or community spread, which would suggest the P.1 variant is no longer isolated.

The health department cites privacy concerns for the patients given the overall low number of identified cases in declining to release more contact tracing data.

Last week, Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson said 21 variant cases were currently under investigation in the Tri-County region. Those are primarily the B.1.1.7 and P.1. strains.

Rossi said seven Tazewell, six Peoria, one McLean, and one Knox County P.1 cases were identified within the sample of positive tests. The concentration of P.1 cases in central Illinois was "surprising," Rossi said.

Two cases of the variant originating in South Africa, and 14 Santa Clara (California) variant cases also were detected.

"I think the biggest things is we're seeing them spread more rapidly," Rossi said. "And it takes time for them to make their way over, and move its way across the country and the state of Illinois."

As of Tuesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) flagged Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, McLean, and Stark counties as "orange," or areas of concern within the state for worsening COVID-19 conditions. All of those counties are in Region 2 that currently reports five consecutive days of ICU capacity under 20 percent, and 10 days of COVID patient increases in hospitals.

The regional 7-day rolling positivity rate average is currently 7.1%, but much higher in Peoria (12.9%), Stark (18.3%), and Tazewell (11.9%).

Reditus Labs is working with IDPH and the CDC to sequence their recent samples in an effort to better understand which variants are becoming more prevalent.

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Tim Shelley is the Assignment Editor and Digital Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.