UT-Austin reports two cases of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant

Skye Seipp

Two cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom were reported at UT on Friday, according to an email from University Health Services and Susan Hochman, associate director of assessment, communications and health information technology for University Health Services.

The email from Terrance Hines, executive director and chief medical officer for University Health Services, and Amy Young, chief clinical officer for UT Health Austin, said the variant was detected Friday. Hochman said the individuals tested positive through on-campus testing efforts. 

Due to privacy concerns, Hines said he could not disclose whether the individual was a student, faculty or staff member. The individuals who tested positive have been informed and are in isolation, according to the email. 

Hochman said both individuals had been on campus to receive testing but wasn’t sure if they had been on campus for any other reasons lately. She said contact tracers have reached out to people who have been in contact with both individuals. 

Hochman said two total cases of the variant have been detected by the University. 

The variant was first reported in Travis County on Wednesday by Austin Public Health. Mark Escott, the interim medical director and health authority for Austin-Travis County, said in a press release that the variant is not more deadly than the original strain but is possibly more contagious. Escott said in the press release that the available COVID-19 vaccines are known to be effective against the variant. 

“Virus mutation is expected,” the email, sent Friday, said. “Often these mutations are inconsequential, but occasionally the mutation involves changes to the proteins on its surface; this can make it less susceptible to drugs or the body’s immune system.”

Additional testing through the Proactive Community Testing program is being done on Saturday and Sunday at Jester West Fireplace Lounge from noon to 4 p.m. to increase access to testing, according to the email.

“It is critical that members of our community strictly follow public health measures, including remaining vigilant with social distancing, masking, hand washing, and routinely getting tested through UT’s Proactive Community Testing (PCT) program,” the email said.