SEATTLE (AP) — Washington and Oregon are now confirming additional cases of the more contagious variant of COVID-19 in the Pacific Northwest.
The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom last September, has been confirmed by DNA sequencing in two cases in Snohomish County, the Washington Department of Health announced Saturday.
The Oregon Health Authority on Saturday confirmed a second case, in someone from Yamhill County, a week after the first case in the state was detected in Multnomah County.
Authorities in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have been assuming that the B.1.1.7 variant is spreading in the Northwest.
Data collected by University of Washington Medicine’s Virology Lab indicate that so far, the presence of the variant is low in Washington. The lab screened 1,035 samples taken between Dec. 25 and Jan. 20; the two cases it found are the first in the state.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no conclusive evidence that it’s more severe than other strains of the virus. And public health officials say prevention and containment protocols for the variant are no different from other cases of COVID-19: Wear a mask, wash your hands, and avoid gathering with other people, especially indoors or in poorly ventilated areas.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before we found evidence of it here in Washington,” Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said in a news release. “Now that this variant has been found, it underscores the absolute importance of doubling down on all the prevention measures to protect Washingtonians against COVID-19.”
The B.1.1.7 variant is expected to become the most prevalent strain of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. within a few months.
More than 300,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 4,100 deaths have been reported in Washington, according to the state's data. Oregon has seen 137,600 cases and nearly 1,900 deaths.