State’s first cases of highly contagious COVID-19 variant detected in Snohomish County

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — The state Department of Health announced Saturday that the first Washington cases of the U.K. variant of COVID-19 have been found in Washington.

“This was not a surprise to many of us. And really what we’ve been planning for weeks now,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, epidemiologist for Washington State Department of Health.

The UW Medicine Virology Lab detected two cases of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, in samples collected from Snohomish County residents.

“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 for the Snohomish Health District. “Containment protocols are no different for B.1.1.7 variants than they are for all other cases of COVID-19.

The lab screened 1,035 samples between Dec. 25, 2020 and Jan. 20, 2021 to detect the mutation.

The variant was first detected in Sept. 2020, and spreads more easily and quickly than other strains of COVID-19. There is no conclusive evidence that it causes more severe illnesses or increased risk of death, the DOH said.

It is more easily transmitted by up to 50% which is why Dr. Jeff Duchin from Public Health – Seattle & King County gave an ominous warning Friday.

“We need to expect the coronavirus equivalent of a Mount St. Helens like eruption at some time in the next few months,” Dr. Duchin said.

>> We need to expect a ‘Mount St. Helens-like eruption’ of COVID cases, King County health officer says

The variant, so far, has been found in more than 20 states. The CDC warns it could become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March.

It’s believed there are more cases of the variant in the state.

“This is not a panic, this is an alert. And we need to just be watching carefully to see how prevalent these become over the next couple of weeks,” Dr. Lindquist added.

The state said it has been ramping up to do its own genotyping of the virus. Officials say these variants underscore the importance of prevention.

“If we have more cases that means we’re going to have more hospitalizations and put further strain on an already burdened health care system,” said Dr. Chris Spitters from the Snohomish Health District.

“We need to double down on all the efforts to wash our hands, watch our distance and certainly to get tested,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington State’s Secretary of Health.

The Snohomish Health District says it is doing contact tracing to find out more about the people who tested positive for the variant.