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U.K. Covid-19 variant discovered in Snohomish, Pierce counties

Scientists have discovered the first Washington state cases of the new Covid-19 strain from the United Kingdom, the Washington State Department of Health announced on Saturday.

On Sunday, the variant was detected in Pierce County, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The UW Medicine Virology Lab found the B.1.1.7 variant — which scientists believe spreads more easily — in specimens collected from two Snohomish County residents.

The lab screened 1,035 samples between Dec. 25 2020 and Jan. 20, 2021, in an effort to locate the mutations associated with the new variant. So far, data suggests a low incidence of the variant in western Washington.

“We thought this variant of concern was here and now we know it’s here,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant professor of the Clinical Virology Lab at UW Medicine, in a press release.

The lab developed several new rapid tests to detect the variant, Greninger added.

In Snohomish County, where the Covid-19 variant was discovered, containment protocols will remain the same, said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer for the Snohomish Health District. There's an investigation underway to learn more about these cases and the people who tested positive for the new strain.

The B.1.1.7 variant was discovered in the United Kingdom in September 2020, and is believed to spread more easily and faster than other variants of Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By December, most new coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom were tied to the new variant.

Data from a recent CDC report estimated that within a few months, this new Covid-19 strain could become the dominant strain within the U.S. The CDC reported at least 195 detections of the variant in 22 states.

The report goes on to say that the increased transmissibility of this variant requires a more rigorous approach to vaccination and mitigation efforts, such as social distancing, masking, and hand washing, to control the spread.

"Efforts to prepare the health care system for further surges in cases are warranted," the CDC report states. "Increased transmissibility also means that higher than anticipated vaccination coverage must be attained to achieve the same level of disease control to protect the public compared with less transmissible variants."

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