Researchers have learned from testing wastewater samples that one of the more contagious variants of the coronavirus is present in Albany and Corvallis.

Oregon State University’s TRACE-COVID-19 project released the findings Monday. The Oregon Health Authority had previously reported that 10 people in the state have tested positive since March for this variant, B.1.351. It was first detected in South Africa. It’s one of several variants that have been identified in Oregon.

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“Following on the heels of the individual cases, the wastewater data supports the fact that the South African strain is here in Oregon, and that it’s likely spreading,” said Brett Tyler, a principal investigator with OSU’s TRACE project and director of OSU’s Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing.

The project has been monitoring the presence and concentration of COVID-19 in 40 Oregon cities by sampling wastewater and sequencing positive samples. The Albany-Corvallis samples were taken March 26 and 31 and April 4.

The B.1.351 variant has a mutation that allows the virus to latch onto a person’s cells more effectively. That makes it easier for a COVID-19 exposure to turn into an infection.

Several studies suggest this variant may have increased resistance against vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials say growing evidence that this and other variants are circulating in Oregon underscores the importance of preventive measures such as masking in public and maintaining social distancing, as well as getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The vaccines may have reduced effectiveness against this strain, but they’re still a whole lot better than not being vaccinated,” Tyler said.

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