A contagious strain of the coronavirus that rapidly swept through the United Kingdom is officially in Oregon, worrying public health officials.
The Oregon Health Authority on Friday announced a Multnomah County resident with no known travel history tested positive for the variant, known as B.1.1.7. Before Oregon’s case, there were only 88 known infections across 15 states.
Federal officials say the strain is far more transmissible and will likely make up a bulk of U.S. infections by March. Although there’s no evidence the strain is more severe or deadly, its ability to pass more easily means more people could be infected and ultimately die during the pandemic.
“The detection of the first case of this variant strain is a concern, and we have been monitoring movement of this strain,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer and state epidemiologist, said in a statement.
The Oregon Health Authority said public health officials in Multnomah County are working Friday night and through the weekend to perform contact tracing tied to the infection.
“Confirming this strain locally is distressing,” Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer, said in a statement. “Until we have enough vaccine, we must continue using face masks, distancing, and limiting our social interactions.”
The existing COVID-19 vaccines should also provide protection against the new variant of the virus.
Oregon was among the earliest states to identify its first coronavirus case in February 2020 and fared relatively well throughout the pandemic, reporting fewer cases and deaths per capita than only a handful of states.
It’s not immediately clear how state officials learned about or confirmed the new strain’s arrival, as only certain coronavirus testing looks for variants in the virus. It’s also not immediately known how many Oregonians who have tested positive have been screened for the variant.
Oregon has seen a sizable decline in testing this month as public health officials focus on vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible.
— Brad Schmidt; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt