Coronavirus Variant Discovered in South Africa Pops up in Washington State for First Time

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The first known case of the coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa has popped up in King County, and 19 additional cases of the variant first found in the U.K. have been identified, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

The B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus, first seen in South Africa in December, was identified through genomic sequencing at the UW Medicine Virology Laboratory. It has been found in 10 states in the U.S.

The B.1.1.7 strain, which was first identified in the U.K., seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants and was first found a month ago in Washington state.

The appearance of the variants in Washington is not a surprise, Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said at a news briefing Tuesday.

The virus will continue to evolve and not all variants are worrisome, but those that are — called "variants of concern" — include both the U.K. and South Africa variants, he said.

Duchin said the new strains should cause people to "double down on their efforts to prevent COVID-19 transmissions."

"The detection of these COVID-19 variants in our state reminds us that this pandemic is not over. Despite the decrease in our case count, we are very concerned about the emergence of these variants and how it will affect future case counts. As a community, we need to redouble our efforts to prevent the spread of this virus and its variants by following public health guidance," said acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist.

The patient with the South African variant tested positive for coronavirus on Jan. 29, but could not be reached through contact-tracing efforts and therefore officials do not know details such as the person's travel history, health officials said.

Health officials urged people to continue to follow safety guidelines: limiting activities outside the home, wearing well-made and well-fitting face masks, avoiding or limiting time indoors with people from outside the home and in crowded indoor spaces, improving indoor ventilation and frequent, thorough hand-washing.

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