CORVALLIS, Ore. — An ongoing Oregon State University program that monitors evidence of coronavirus in city wastewater throughout the state has detected "multiple variants" of the virus, including signs that the U.K. strain has made it to Bend.
OSU put out a statement regarding the discoveries on Friday, stemming from genetic sequencing of samples from the college's Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing.
The Bend sample in particular was collected on December 22. Sequencing found evidence of the U.K. strain on January 21.
Oregon health officials have so far identified three positive cases of the U.K. strain, but none in the eastern or central areas of the state around Bend. The three known cases were found in Multnomah, Yamhill, and Washington counties.
“With the new variants arriving, being able to understand which variants are circulating among communities is becoming increasingly more important,” said Brett Tyler, director of the genome center.
Researchers have acknowledged that many variant strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have already been detected and will continue to emerge over time. But a few strains — particularly the ones detected in the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil — are believed to be more contagious than common variants, with mutations that allow the virus to more easily infect a person.
As of Monday, OSU said that its lab had completed genetic sequencing on more than 1,100 samples.
Five people on OSU's Corvallis campus were positive for the “L452R” mutant strain of COVID-19, and it was also present in campus wastewater. This variant was first detected in March, but does not have the same advantageous mutation as the international strains.
“This strain is not of the highest concern, like those other three (U.K, South African and Brazilian variants), but it has spread extensively in Southern California and was associated with some recent large outbreaks in Santa Clara County,” Tyler said.
Two sub-types of the L452R strain were found in wastewater from Albany, Forest Grove, Klamath Falls, Lincoln City and Silverton.
“It is not surprising that we have detected this strain,” Tyler said. “Since L452R has been around a long time, and is currently widespread in California, it stands to reason that it would likely find its way up here. But it does indicate the importance of the sequencing to keep track of it.”
Part of OSU's effort is to monitor these new strains as they appear in order to judge how they could impact the effectiveness of the current COVID-19 vaccines. According to the university, a partnership with the Oregon Health Authority seeks to expand the program to every county in the state.