The New Variant COVID-19 Strain is Here

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The new strain has arrived in Washington, here’s what you need to know.

It is worrisome, but not surprising, to learn that the new COVID-19 variant strain that has been reported in many U.S. states has now been detected in Washington state.

Washington State Department of Health and Snohomish Health District announced that UW Medicine Virology Lab detected two cases of the COVID-19 variant, known as B117, in specimens collected from two Snohomish County residents.

The strain spreads more easily than others and quickly became the dominant strain circulating in the United Kingdom, where it was first identified. The CDC recently predicted the B117 strain will be the predominant strain in the US by March.

As we confront this more contagious strain of COVID-19, here’s the important thing to understand: The variant strain spreads in the same ways as other COVID-19 strains, it’s just better at it. That means we need to get better at our countermeasures: masks, physical distance, good ventilation and staying home when possible.

“We should expect the variant strains to become widespread here, and that will make the outbreak harder for us to control. But we have the advantage of early warning to help us prepare,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Steps we can take

The appearance of the B117 variant in Washington reminds us that it’s important to do all we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 – in our homes, workplaces, social lives, and wherever we gather – and to push cases down as low as possible BEFORE the B117 strain can spread widely and gain an advantage. This means we need to meet this new challenge by going all in on the steps that we know work, starting now.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself away from others and get tested. Stay in isolation while waiting for your test results and until your healthcare provider or a Public Health investigator lets you know when to end your isolation (usually 10 days after symptom onset if you are improving and have not had a fever in at least 24 hours). The person with COVID-19 and others in the home should wear masks until all ill people are out of isolation.

If you think you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, get tested even if you don’t have symptoms and be diligent about quarantining and staying away from others, including wearing a mask in your home around other people.

Minimize your contacts and activities with people outside your household, wear a well-fitted face mask around anyone you don’t live with and stay six feet or more apart, wash your hands often, avoid crowded indoor spaces and remember that a well-ventilated area is safer. These are our most effective tools in the fight against COVID-19, including this new, more infectious B117 strain.

Lastly, when you are eligible, get vaccinated to protect yourself. Vaccination is ultimately our best defense, but at this time, it can’t be our only defense. New, more contagious strains of COVID-19 are concerning, but we’ve had a year to get to know this virus and how to prevent its spread. We can beat this variant strain, but it will require serious and renewed effort from all of us for a few months. And we need to start right now doing all we can to stop the spread, before the variant spreads too widely and gains momentum that could make our situation even tougher to manage.

More information from Washington State Department of Health’s blog on identification of the new variant.

Originally posted 1/23/2021 in Public Heath Insider

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