More contagious strain of COVID-19 found in Snohomish County

Two residents tested positive, and are the first cases that have been identified in the state.

EVERETT — A new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 has entered Washington state, by way of Snohomish County, state health authorities announced Saturday afternoon.

The University of Washington Medicine Virology Lab identified the B.1.1.7 variant in two Snohomish County residents, according to a press release. The strain was first discovered in September in the United Kingdom, where it has quickly become one of the dominant forms of COVID-19.

Scientists say it spreads more quickly and easily than other variants, though there’s no evidence yet whether it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that B.1.1.7 will become the dominant strain in the nation within a few months. Through Jan. 22, the agency reported 195 cases among 22 states. That number doesn’t include those identified in Snohomish County.

“We thought this variant of concern was here and now we know it’s here. It was a huge team effort by the UW Medicine Virology Lab and required development of several new rapid tests to detect and confirm it,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant professor of the Clinical Virology Lab at UW Medicine.

Scientists tested 1,035 samples between Dec. 25 and Jan. 20 to look for the mutation, via whole viral genome sequencing. So far, the data suggests the variant isn’t currently widespread in Washington. Health officials expect more cases will soon be found, according to a press release.

“The Snohomish Health District had already instituted standard case investigation, isolation, and contact tracing prior to learning about these cases,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, the chief health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “Containment protocols are no different for B.1.1.7 variants than they are for all other cases of COVID-19.”

Health experts are continuing to investigate the cases to learn more about the strain, Spitters said.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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