COVINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced Tuesday the first two cases of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus, first discovered in the United Kingdom, were confirmed in the Commonwealth
The first signs of the "UK variant" of COVID-19 confirmed by the Kentucky Department for Public Health were discovered at a Covington lab that has ramped up testing dramatically in the last year to meet growing demand.
“It’s been a whirlwind to say the least,” Gravity Diagnostics vice president of regulatory clinical and research programs J.P. Canner said.
Last April, the lab set a goal of processing 5,000 tests a day. Now, they’re up to 15,000, and turning around 89% of samples on the same day.
“At the time, Kentucky wasn’t a hotspot,” Canner said. “The Midwest, Kentucky, Ohio, weren’t really hotspots, so they weren’t getting the national attention, and that meant that they were having 12–14 day turnaround times for these stations, and it really wasn’t doing anyone any good.”
The company grew from 60 employees to nearly 300 at two locations and said its technology allows the company to narrow down the sea of samples for possible variations is the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
“What we were able to do with that knowledge is be able to kind of quickly screen for positive samples that could potentially be this novel variant,” Canner said.
Dr. Lynne Saddler, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Health Department, said you won’t necessarily know if you’ve been exposed to the UK variant or any other new strain.
“This particular strain, the B.1.1.7 from the United Kingdom, is an important strain that we’ve been watching for,” she said.
Proof of the strain doesn’t mean you’ll be prioritized for a vaccine, but your case could still be mild.
“If you’ve been exposed today, trying to get vaccinated your first dose today is not going to protect you from the exposure that you have had,” Saddler said.
But, she said those same steps, including quarantine, could prevent further spread.
"There are a lot of very bright and hopeful things coming on the horizon,” Saddler said. “As hard as it is for all of us to be patient, it’s what we need most as we move forward here.”
The Northern Kentucky Health Department has numbers to call and links to follow for all three vaccine providers on its website. Appointments are currently filled through Jan. 29.