State’s first cases of U.K. COVID-19 strain found in Snohomish County

The COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom has been found in testing samples from Snohomish County.

That’s according to a Saturday announcement from the Washington State Department of Health along with the Snohomish Health District and the UW Medicine Virology Lab.

The UW Medicine Virology Lab detected two cases of the COVID-19 variant — known as B.1.1.7 or SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 — in specimens collected from two Snohomish County residents. The lab screened 1,035 samples between Dec. 25, 2020 and Jan. 20, 2021 to detect mutations associated with B.1.1.7, first identified in the UK. The lab confirmed the variant by whole viral genome sequencing.

Data collected so far suggests a low prevalence of the B.1.1.7 variant in Western Washington, the announcement said. Although these are the first detected B.1.1.7 variants in the state, it is likely that other cases exist and will come to light through ongoing surveillance.

“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.

“The Snohomish Health District had already instituted standard case investigation, isolation, and contact tracing prior to learning about these cases,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, 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. Follow-up investigation is underway to learn more about these cases and the individuals who tested positive for this strain.”

The B.1.1.7 variant, first detected globally in September 2020, emerged with an unusually large number of mutations and has now spread significantly in London and southeast England. This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no conclusive evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. In a report last week, CDC estimated that this strain will become the dominant strain in the U.S. within a few months. Data they provided show that, through January 22, there were 195 detections of this variant in 22 states.

“While finding the B.1.1.7 variant is concerning, we knew it was only a matter of time before we found evidence of it here in Washington. That said, the health and safety of all Washingtonians remains our top priority,” said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH.

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