Highly contagious COVID-19 ‘UK variant’ found in Clark County

Clark County Public Health says two cases are not related, suggesting strain is already circulating in community

Clark County Public Health reported today that two cases of the highly contagious B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom and commonly known as the “UK variant” has been discovered in two Clark County residents recently tested for COVID-19. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control had confirmed 932 cases of the UK variant in 34 states as of Tuesday, Feb. 9. Data shows the variant is about 50 percent more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. 

The two local cases — both confirmed by the University of Washington’s Northwest Genomics Center lab — are the first known cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Clark County.

“This variant can spread more easily and quickly than others, but the measures we take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are also effective in preventing the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director stated in a news release. “It’s essential that we continue to wear face coverings, practice physical distancing and avoid gatherings.”

Public Health reported that one of the two people with the B.1.1.7 variant had traveled out of the country before testing positive for COVID-19. The other person did not travel and the cases do not seem to be related, which Public Health officials said “suggests the B.1.1.7 variant is circulating in Clark County.” 

The UK variant was first discovered in Washington state in January of this year. Public Health stated in the news release that “data collected so far suggests a low prevalence of the B.1.1.7 variant in western Washington,” but warns that the CDC has predicted the B.1.1.7 variant will become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S. within a few months.

On Feb. 8, an article published by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said scientists are now warning that the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant “will dominate other strains in the coming weeks” in the U.S., “triggering major COVID-19 surges such as those seen in Portugal and the United Kingdom” if the nation does not “immediately scale up surveillance and mitigation efforts.” 

Clark County Public Health stated that “while the B.1.1.7 variant does spread more easily than other variants, evidence is lacking that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death for those infected with it” and added the CDC is continuing to study the B.1.1.7 and other variants. 

“So far, studies suggest the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use are effective against the B.1.1.7 variant,” Public Health stated. 

County public health officials have warned “it will take months before everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get it” due to limited vaccine supplies. 

Public Health recommends Clark County residents take the following steps to help control the spread of COVID-19, including the new variant, and keep their families, friends and community safe: 

  • Wear a face covering anytime you’re around people you do not live with, including people you see regularly. Make sure face coverings fit well and have multiple layers.
  • Stay at least 6 feet from people you do not live with.
  • Avoid social gatherings. If you do gather with others, keep the gatherings outside whenever possible. If you participate in an indoor social gathering, keep the group size small, wear face coverings and open windows and doors to maximize ventilation.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Stay home if you are sick or if you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Seek testing for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were in close contact with someone who tested positive.

Learn more about COVID-19 variants on the Washington State Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/Variants