60% of COVID-19 samples sent from Rochester Regional Health test positive for UK variant strain


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Local infectious disease expert, Dr. Emil Lesho of Rochester Regional Health, held a briefing Monday afternoon to discuss the latest samples of COVID-19 variants found in Rochester.

“We have another reminder of how important it is, if you’re eligible for the vaccine, to get the vaccine, to continue to mask, and do social distancing, and not let our guard down,” Dr. Lesho said.

Dr. Lesho says, anecdotally, RRH is seeing an uptick of COVID-19 cases, mostly from younger people, with an increase in variant strains identified.

The infectious disease expert said 60% of the last batch of samples which were shipped for analysis found 60% were positivity for the UK variant. He also said there were a few cases of the California variant.

“The CDC had expected this variant to predominate, but this is, to my knowledge, the first that we have molecular confirmation of such a normal increase,” Dr. Lesho said. “The last time we had a shipment there were only two UK variants in it, that was about a month ago. Our most recent showed 27 of the 44 were the UK variant.”

Dr. Lesho said RRH routinely sends samples to be tested for variants. He added that the variants may be more transmissible and may cause more severe disease.

The doctor says the hospital system has seen an increase of folks in their 40s and 50s admitted for treatment due to COVID-19.

“Seeing in the 40s — and it’s important to caveat that this is randomized, this is observational,” Dr. Lesho said. “They seem to be sicker because more of them seem to be needing higher levels of care. In the last few weeks, I’m seeing patients in their 40s and 50s quickly escalating in the ICU. To an extent, that’s supported by the positivity rate.”

Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza warned about another local COVID-19 surge in the community, with increasing metrics of daily new cases and average positivity rates. Dr. Mendoza said this surge was evidence of more transmissible virus strains present in Monroe County.

“We are entering another surge of the pandemic here in Monroe County, and we are reporting 302 new cases today,” Dr. Mendoza said last Thursday. “What’s especially concerning about this is it’s occurring in warmer weather. People are gathering outdoors and more people are vaccinated. All of this taken together leaves me to conclude the impact of the variants are upon us.”

“These remind us of the need to continue to socially distance, to continue to wear masks, to not think that it’s over, because these can be more contagious, they can cause more severe disease,” Dr. Lesho said. “In a cluster of admissions that we had, what stands out in your memory is when they’re young and they’re seemingly healthy and they end up in the ICU.”

Despite variant concerns, the doctor said vaccine trials in children have been going well.

“The good news is, I think, some of the vaccines are being tested in younger people and they’re being found highly effective,” Dr. Lesho said. “But again, it underscores the need to get as many younger people vaccinated as we can. The UK variant is still very well prevented by the current vaccine repertoire. We haven’t, at least at RRH, identified any of the South African variants yet.

“It just emphasizes the need for continue vigilance,” Dr. Lesho said. “Don’t use the possibility of a variation or a mutation as a reason to not get a vaccine. The way we prevent those variants from emerging is to have as many people immunized through natural infection or the vaccine so that you deprive the virus of an opportunity to reproduce itself. It it’s not doing that, then you don’t have to worry about the mutations.”

Watch the full press briefing

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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