SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The new, faster-spreading variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Utah.
The Utah Department of Health confirmed Friday that the state’s first case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant was discovered through ongoing genetic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples by the Utah Public Laboratory.
“This mutation has allowed it to more readily attach to your cells and cause infection. So it takes less effort for the virus to actually attach to your cells, replicate, and cause you to be ill and transmit it to others,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist.
UDOH reports the case is a Salt Lake County man between the age of 25-44 who tested positive in December.
He has no known travel outside of the state and experienced only mild symptoms.
The CDC recently announced the variant could be the dominant strain in the United States by March.
“This variant seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants. Currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” the CDC explains about the “UK Variant.”
“We fully anticipated we would find this strain in Utah. We know this strain is more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants, and our hospitals continue to operate near or over capacity. So now more than ever, Utah residents need to wear masks, practice physical distancing, and avoid large gatherings,” says Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist at the UDOH.
Officials say the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use are believed to be effective against this strain. Regular COVID-19 testing will not, however, detect if a positive case is from the new variant – that requires additional testing.
“The new variant isn’t changing our response or plans for vaccination. We anticipate the virus to change over time, and if anything, it just shows how much we need to buckle down with the prevention recommendations we’ve been saying for months now to get our case counts under control,” Jenny Johnson, Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Health, told ABC4 in December.
The new variant has already been detected in multiple states, including Colorado, Georgia, Florida, and California.
Over 317,000 Utahns have tested positive for COVID-19 while over 1,400 have died from virus-related complications.
Of particular concern, health officials say, are children.
“This group is tending to spread COVID more readily in general, and then you put on top of that a more contagious variant. And it’s just going like wildfire through the younger age groups,” said Dunn.