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Two masked students pass each other on Locust Walk. Penn Medicine discovered a new variant of COVID-19 in Philadelphia on Friday. 

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Penn Medicine identified the first local case of a highly transmissible COVID-19 variant originally detected in the United Kingdom on Friday.

Frederic Bushman, the chair of microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine, detected the variant in his lab after an investigation by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Bucks County Health Department, Penn Medicine News reported. This is the second recorded case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant in Pennsylvania. 

Although research surrounding the variant is ongoing, current data suggests that it is more easily transmitted between people than the dominant variant of COVID-19 in the United States, Penn Medicine News reported. 

“While it is still not proven that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible than other variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are concerned that it is present in Philadelphia," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. "Everyone in the area should take this information as a reminder to be even more consistent in wearing masks and keeping distance from others.”

The patient, a female resident of Philadelphia and Bucks Counties, is in her 50s and developed COVID-like symptoms in late December. She is now recovering after a brief hospitalization, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.  

Bushman and his lab began their collaboration with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health during the onset of the pandemic last spring, Penn Medicine News reported. The team has been performing genetic sequencing tests on genomes from hospitalized patients at Penn Medicine in order to better understand COVID-19 and community transmission. 

“I don’t think it’s surprising to have found the variant here, as it has already been detected elsewhere in Pennsylvania and in many locations across the [United States]," Bushman told Penn Medicine News. "All these detections support the idea that the virus is more infectious, and reinforces that we need to take the precautions we know work — wear masks, social distance, don’t go to crowded places, and get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you.”

The first instance of the COVID-19 variant was confirmed in Dauphin County, Pa. on Jan. 7 in a resident who was exposed to the variant in another country. As of Dec. 15, the variant has been detected in 10 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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