UK variant of COVID-19 virus found in Clark County

Tests on two unrelated cases mean the variant is likely circulating in the community

CLARK COUNTY — A new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19, first spotted in the United Kingdom, has been found in Clark County.

Clark County Public Health said Thursday two cases of strain, known as B.1.1.7, were identified in samples sent to the Northwest Genomics Center at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

One of the two cases had traveled outside of the country prior to testing positive for COVID-19, the department said. The other case was unrelated, and had not recently traveled, indicating the new strain is actively circulating in the community.

“This variant can spread more easily and quickly than others, but the measures we take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are also effective in preventing the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director. “It’s essential that we continue to wear face coverings, practice physical distancing and avoid gatherings.”

Research to date shows that B.1.1.7 is more easily transmitted, and more likely to cause infection, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that there is no evidence to show it causes a more severe illness. 

The makers of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines also say there is evidence both are still effective against the UK variant of the novel coronavirus, which the CDC expects to become the dominant strain in the United States before Summer.

The news comes as Clark County has seen steady progress in recent weeks with declining new case numbers and hospitalizations.

On Thursday, Clark County Public Health reported 49 new cases, with no new deaths. The rate of new cases per 100,000 people has fallen from nearly 474 in mid-January, to just over 262 as of this week, and should fall further next week if the current rate of new cases continues.

Total active cases, meaning people within 10 days of a positive test or symptom onset, dropped to 376 on Thursday. Hospitalizations rose slightly, with 37 confirmed and 14 suspected cases taking up 8.8 percent of total bed space, up from 7.5 percent on Wednesday.

To date, there have been 17,706 confirmed cases in Clark County, along with 183 confirmed and 21 suspected deaths. A confirmed death is someone who has COVID listed as a cause of death on their death certificate. Unconfirmed deaths did not have COVID listed as a cause of death, but it wasn’t ruled out and they had tested positive within 28 days of death.

As vaccine distribution ramps up slowly, the CDC and Washington Department of Health are urging people to continue taking precautions to slow the spread of the disease.

Those methods include:

  • Wear a face covering anytime you’re around people you do not live with, including people you see regularly. Make sure face coverings fit well and have multiple layers.
  • Stay at least 6 feet from people you do not live with.
  • Avoid social gatherings. If you do gather with others, keep the gatherings outside whenever possible. If you participate in an indoor social gathering, keep the group size small, wear face coverings and open windows and doors to maximize ventilation.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Stay home if you are sick or if you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Seek testing for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were in close contact with someone who tested positive.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the Washington Department of Health website, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.