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More contagious coronavirus variant detected on UT campus

UT Austin said individuals who tested positive with the variant are in isolation.

AUSTIN, Texas — According to a letter sent to the University of Texas at Austin community on Friday, a more contagious coronavirus variant discovered in the U.K. has been identified on campus.

Austin Public Health confirmed the first Travis County case of the variant, B.1.1.7, on Wednesday, saying the strain had already been suspected to be in the area for weeks.

“Today, we are writing to let you know that the COVID-19 variant known as B.1.1.7 and first discovered in the United Kingdom has been detected through our proactive on-campus testing, monitoring and sequencing efforts,” said UT Chief Medical Officer Dr. Terrence Hines and Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Amy Young in the letter.

They said the university has an advantage when it comes to detecting even small numbers of variants in its community using the Genomic Sequencing and Analysis Facility.

Those individuals who tested positive with the variant have been notified. They have been in isolation since receiving their positive test result and close contacts have been advised to self-quarantine and get tested.

RELATED: Austin Public Health confirms first case of UK COVID-19 variant in Travis County

Dr. Hines and Dr. Young said the university is continually monitoring for variants in its testing operations.

“Often these mutations are inconsequential, but occasionally the mutation involves changes to the proteins on its surface; this can make it less susceptible to drugs or the body’s immune system,” they said. “Mutations can also give a new variant an advantage, such as helping it spread more easily, allowing it to become the dominant strain in a community.”

An additional UT clinic will open this weekend to increase capacity for COVID-19 testing. It will be available from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in the Jester West Fireplace Lounge. People can make appointments online or walk in.

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