The coronavirus variant that was first detected in South Africa has now been discovered in King County. It’s the first time the variant, which is more contagious, has been identified in Washington.
It was identified Monday through genomic sequencing at the University of Washington virology lab. The patient tested positive for the virus on Jan. 29.
Health officials say they don’t know the person’s travel history or other details because they haven’t been able to reach them through contact tracing. Officials say they expect more of the South African variant – B-1-351 – to turn up.
At a virtual news conference Tuesday, state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist urged the public to help contain the virus. He says that includes if you test positive and public health tries to contact you.
"Please be part of the solution. Answer your phone. Answer the questions. Be truthful so that we can identify any of your contacts, and they can be quarantined and tested as needed," Lindquist said. "We really need the public's help, especially when we’re seeing an increase in these variants."
Health officials say the discovery of the new variant here is a reminder to double down on all the precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing.
King County Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin acknowledges that people are sick of the virus and all the restrictions, but this is a reminder that it’s still with us and will be for some time.
“But we don’t want to give the virus a break here, to become complacent, to ease up on our precautions and allow it to get some momentum because we know if it spreads it does so more quickly and that will result in more hospitalizations and more deaths more quickly, and we don’t want to start going in that direction," he said.
Duchin says there are things working in our favor to help prevent an outbreak. Unlike earlier in the pandemic, people are now getting vaccinated, the overall infection rate is on the decline and there’s more knowledge about how to prevent spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, another strain of the coronavirus -- the U.K. variant -- was found a month ago in Washington. Nineteen additional cases of it were announced Tuesday by state health officials, bringing the total number of U.K. variant cases to 39 in Washington.