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Third COVID-19 Variant Detected In Wisconsin

Jack Hurbanis
A new variant known as P.1 that is believed to spread faster and more easily than the original strain of COVID-19 has been found in Wisconsin.

The state Department of Health Services on Friday confirmed the first Wisconsin case of a potentially more severe COVID-19 variant that originated in Brazil, which means all three known variants have now been reported in the state.

The variant known as the P.1 is believed to spread more rapidly and easily than the original strain of COVID-19. Wisconsin health officials also said the variant has unique mutations that may make it more difficult for antibodies generated through vaccinations or previous infections to fight it off.

The variant is believed to be responsible for a surge in hospitalizations in Brazil even though many people there had already developed COVID-19 and made antibodies against it. There are 79 reported cases in 19 other states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been 78 cases in Wisconsin of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the U.K., up from 55 last week. There are two confirmed Wisconsin cases of a third variant, first detected in South Africa. All of them have been detected through surveillance and whole genome sequencing.

The appearance of variants makes it all the more important to get vaccinated when able, said Wisconsin's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard. Health officials have renewed warnings for people to be cautious given a recent spike in overall cases, including variants.

As of Friday, more than 28% of people age 16 and up had received at least one dose of vaccine in Wisconsin and more than 16% were fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.

Also on Friday, Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a Republican-supported bill that would have required him to submit a plan within three weeks for returning state employees to work out of their offices during the pandemic.

Evers said in his veto message that more state employees are scheduled to return to their offices starting April 5 and that the goal is to resume normal operations this summer.

Evers said he was vetoing the bill because it encroaches on his authority as governor to administer and oversee employment policy. Republicans in the Legislature have been pushing for state employees to return to their offices as COVID-19 case counts have dropped from highs in mid-November and vaccinations are on the rise.

Evers defended the work being done remotely by state employees, saying they have gone above and beyond to serve during the pandemic.

“This work should not be discounted or demeaned,” Evers said. “These workers deserve our gratitude and respect.”

In addition to pushing for state employees to return to the office, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos this week called on Wisconsin's business community to “step up” and return workers to offices by the Fourth of July.

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