AUSTIN, Texas — According to a letter sent to the University of Texas at Austin community Monday afternoon, a new COVID-19 variant has been detected on campus. This is the second COVID-19 variant to be detected on campus this year.
UT said there is very little data available at this point regarding the transmissibility of the new variant – known as B.1.429 and originating in California – nor whether it can lead to more severe illness or the degree to which currently available vaccines protect against it.
UT said the individuals who tested positive for the variant have been informed and have been following isolation protocols. Public health professionals have also notified close contacts and advised them to self-quarantine and get tested.
UT said it has an advantage when it comes to detecting even small numbers of variants on campus through the employment of "Next Generation Sequencing" of the virus with the university's Genomic Sequencing and Analysis Facility.
"These efforts provide the state and nation with early, essential epidemiological data on the emergence and transmission of variants. Although we sequence only on-campus tests, we assume that these cases are representative of the wider community and are working with local and state health authorities accordingly. The emergence of new variants stresses the need for increased vigilance in practicing protective behaviors," the university said in the letter.
This California variant is the second COVID-19 variant to be detected on UT's campus this year. In early February, the more contagious variant discovered in the U.K. – B.1.1.7 – was identified on the campus.
UT said to prevent exporting or importing variants while traveling for spring break and to prevent a surge in cases after the break, students and staff should continue to follow public health measures, including social distancing, double masking and routinely getting tested. The school is also recommending people get vaccinated when they are eligible.
The Proactive Community Testing (PCT) program will continue to operate throughout spring break and UT will be offering a PCT clinic on Sunday, March 21, from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. to increase access to testing when students and staff return to campus.
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