A third person in Oregon has tested positive for a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that first appeared in the United Kingdom.
The variant is among several new strains of the coronavirus with an unusual number of mutations that scientists are tracking due to a concern that they could spread more easily or reduce the efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines.
The person, who is in Washington County, had a known travel history outside of the United States during their exposure period. Washington County has conducted contact tracing and notified people who were in close proximity to the patient.
The U.K. variant spreads more quickly and easily, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have said their vaccines should be effective against it.
Oregon health officials say the presence of the U.K. variant of COVID-19 in Oregon is a reason to stay faithful to prevention measures such as wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home if you feel sick.
“People need to assume that it’s circulating,” said Mary Sawyers, spokeswoman for Washington County Public Health.
”It’s just another reason to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” she said. “Wearing masks, wearing masks, wearing masks and keeping our distance until a large majority of us are vaccinated.”
A University of Portland staff member and a person in Yamhill County have also tested positive for the U.K. variant. Neither had a history of travel outside the United States.
The latest case was identified by researchers with the Oregon SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Center at OHSU, from a sample collected at an OHSU testing site the last week in December.
Important genomic updates on #SARSCoV2 in #Oregon from @OregonCovidSeq team from our latest data release including #B117 /#501YV1 and #L452R spike mutation. Now over 1500 genomes sequenced @OHSUSOM from #2020. @nextstrain @OHSUnews https://t.co/x6NXReCnym A short thread 1/7— Brian O'Roak (@TheRealDrOLab) January 24, 2021
The group has sequenced genomes from more than 1,500 COVID-19 positive samples collected in Oregon since the pandemic began. The Oregon Health Authority also partners with labs at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon for genomic testing.
Scientists in the United Kingdom are investigating evidence that might show a small increase in the fatality rate associated with the new variant. The CDC has warned that unless the pace of vaccination increases and people adhere stringently to COVID-19 prevention guidelines, the U.K. variant could become the dominant strain this spring and lead to a surge in cases.