Public health officials on Tuesday announced that the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been detected in Washington’s King County.
The variant, known as B.1.351, was found using genomic sequencing at the University of Washington Medicine Virology Laboratory. The sample was from a patient who tested positive for the virus Jan. 29.
No additional information about the patient, such as travel history and other means of exposure, was available, said health officials with the Washington State Department of Health, Public Heath – Seattle & King County, and the UW. The patient has not been reached through contact tracing efforts.
Officials have found a total of 39 cases of the United Kingdom or B.1.1.7 variant in Washington. There are no known cases in the state of the variant that originated in Brazil.
“The finding underscores the importance of genomic surveillance by sequencing, which allows us to identify variants currently circulating in the population,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor with the UW’s Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, in a statement.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the South African variant does not appear to cause more severe disease, and it’s not known if it spreads more easily than other mutations.
State health officials said in a news release that while the strain “can reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines, vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness and death.” They reminded people of the importance of continuing to wear masks and remain socially distanced.
As with the rest of the country, the rate of COVID infections continues declining in Washington state and King County, which includes Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond.
In Washington, close to 13% of the population has received an initial dose of the COVID vaccine, and more than 5% are fully vaccinated.