OLYMPIA - The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) along with Public Heath – Seattle & King County and the UW Medicine Virology Lab, recently announced that the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has been detected in King County, WA.
The variant, initially identified in South Africa, was identified on Monday through genomic sequencing at the UW Medicine Virology Laboratory. The patient tested positive for COVID-19 on January 29, 2021. Other details about the case, including travel history are not available as the person was not able to be reached through contact tracing efforts.
At the same time, a virology lab found evidence of 19 additional cases of the B.1.1.7 variant strain in Washington state. First identified in the United Kingdom, this brings the total number of known cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Washington state to 39. Currently, there are no confirmed cases of the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil.
“The finding underscores the importance of genomic surveillance by sequencing, which allows us to identify variants currently circulating in the population,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor, Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Washington School of Medicine.
“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 re-double our efforts to prevent the spread of this virus and its variants by following public health guidance,” said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH.
“COVID-19 is threatening us in new ways, and we need to rise to the challenge,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Heath – Seattle & King County. “The B.1.1.7 variant can spread more readily and B.1.351 viruses might reduce vaccine effectiveness. For these reasons we need to continue to do all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and push our case rates as low as possible.”
“This means limiting activities outside the home, wearing well-made and well-fitting face masks, avoiding or limiting time indoors with others outside the home and in crowded indoor spaces, improving indoor ventilation, and good hand washing,” he added.
About the variants
The variant, known as B.1.351, was originally identified in South Africa in December and has been found in ten states in the U.S. At this point, it is not known to cause more severe disease and it is not clear whether it spreads more readily than other strains. Although this strain can reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines, vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to investigate the B.1.351 variant.
The B.1.1.7 strain, first identified in the UK, seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths. Currently available vaccines should provide good protection against this strain. Evidence of this strain was first found a month ago in Washington state.
Because COVID-19 variants may spread more easily, the DOH says it is vital that we all follow these guidelines:
- Wear a mask, even with people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles;
- Keep gatherings outside whenever possible;
- Avoid any social gatherings indoors, but if participating, wear a mask and ensure windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation;
- Wear a mask while in the car with other people, including with family who do not live in your household;
- Wash your hands often, don’t touch your face, and carry hand sanitizer for use when water and soap are not available;
- Stay home if you are sick or if you have been exposed to COVID-19;
- Get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were exposed to someone who tested positive; and,
Residents can sign up for Washington Exposure Notifications (also known as WA Notify). WA Notify is a free tool that alerts smartphone users if they have been exposed to COVID-19. The program does not share personal information or track where you go.
The variant page on the Department of Health website includes additional information about variants.