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First cases of UK COVID-19 variant found in Washington

A sign outside the UW Medicine Research facilities in South Lake Union on Dec. 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The Washington State Department of Health along with the Snohomish Health District and the UW Medicine Virology Lab have found the first cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 — first detected in the UK — in testing samples from the state.

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The UW lab detected two known cases of the variant in specimens collected from two Snohomish County residents. The lab screen more than a thousand samples between Dec. 25 and Jan. 20 to detect mutations, and confirmed the variant by whole viral genome sequencing. 

“We thought this variant of concern was here and now we know it’s here. It was a huge team effort by the UW Medicine Virology Lab and required development of several new rapid tests to detect and confirm it,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant professor of the Clinical Virology Lab at UW Medicine.

These are the first detected B.1.1.7 variants in the state, but it is likely that other cases exist.

“The Snohomish Health District had already instituted standard case investigation, isolation, and contact tracing prior to learning about these cases,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer Snohomish Health District. “Containment protocols are no different for B.1.1.7 variants than they are for all other cases of COVID-19. Follow-up investigation is underway to learn more about these cases and the individuals who tested positive for this strain.”

The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected globally in September 2020. It spreads more easily and quickly than other variants.

“While finding the B.1.1.7 variant is concerning, we knew it was only a matter of time before we found evidence of it here in Washington. That said, the health and safety of all Washingtonians remains our top priority,” said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah. “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.”

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