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Primary Care begins COVID-19 variant testing as three variants have been found in the Commonwealth

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 2:12 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - COVID-19 cases are increasing across the U.S. as well as the variants. Three of the five known COVID variants have been discovered in Kentucky. More than 150 cases of the U.K. variant have been discovered in the state.

“If we know the variant is in our area, and we know the individuals that are more likely to have severe disease with that, especially those that have not been vaccinated then we can start taking the precautions needed to protect them,” said Christie Herald, a nurse practitioner at Primary Care Centers of Eastern Kentucky.

So far, none of the variants have been diagnosed in Eastern Kentucky, but Herald says that is probably due to a lack of testing.

“Right now there’s just no one else that’s doing any kind of testing to find out if we have the variants and so identifying those early helps us to take precautions to help prevent spread within our community so we don’t have another surge,” said Herald.

Starting Monday, Primary Care is testing for the variants. Each positive PCR test will be run through another machine to discover if it is one of the mutations. The swabs will then be sent to a state lab for confirmation.

“Right now the only tests that I’m aware of that are being sent to the state lab for testing for variants is if you are 14 days post vaccination and test positive, then those swabs are sent then on to the state lab for variant testing,” said Herald.

The variants are known to be ore transmissible and cause more severe illness, which is why Herald says it’s important for them to be diagnosed.

“We’re seeing that younger people are getting more sick with the variant so that’s why it’s important to identify if it’s in our area then we know to take more precautions,” she said.

If the more contagious variants started to surge, it could overwhelm the health care system.

“When you max out those health care resources, it just puts a strain on the whole community for any medical issue,” said Herald.

Herald also noted, this will help them know if the COVID-19 vaccines are providing protection against the variants.

“Right now we just simply don’t have enough of that data to know and so doing the testing for variants will help us tremendously,” Herald said.

Primary Care is also completing COVID testing in nine local nursing homes. They hope to test any positive cases for a variant, to help protect high risk populations.

“Identifying a variant earlier in that group helps them isolate those individuals to prevent spread among the nursing home,” said Herald.

The variant testing can only be completed through PCR testing, not rapid.

Primary Care is working with local and state health officials who are encouraging and supporting them to complete this testing.

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