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Central Georgia doctors say B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant may already be in the area

"It may very well be in our community and we just don't know. In fact, I would assume it either is here or it will be here very soon," said Dr. Jennifer Hoffman

MACON, Ga. — As cases continue to rise, the new strain of COVID-19 called B.1.1.7 is floating around the U.S. We spoke to Central Georgia doctors about what you should know.

The first Georgia case of the variant was detected last week in an 18-year-old male with no travel history.

Dr. Jennifer Hoffman with Coliseum Health System says she believes the strain is in Central Georgia, but it's gone undetected.

"It may very well be in our community and we just don't know. In fact, I would assume it either is here or it will be here very soon," said Hoffman.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a total of 72 infections with the B.1.1.7 strain have been detected in the country.

To find this strain, the sample must be sent to a specialized lab for review. 

Dr. Jeff Stephens with Navicent Health says it's not checked clinically.

"When we do testing, we were just looking for the genetic material of the virus, we don't look to see the actual strain," said Stephens.

The virus is more contagious, but there's no evidence that it causes more severe symptoms.

Hoffman says whether a patient's case is the new strain or the old one, care is the same.

"We still expect that our regular treatments of steroids and Remdesivir, and stuff like that should work on the new variant just as well as they work on the old variant," she said, but she worries this strain could spread more rapidly than the virus we're used to.

"Because the virus is more transmissible, I'm very concerned that we're going to be seeing, you know, just dramatic upticks in our numbers and we're already in a really pretty bad spot," said Hoffman.

Both Hoffman and Stephens encourages everyone to continue to wear masks and social distance for safety.