UK COVID-19 strain detected at the University of Washington

The UK COVID-19 strain has been detected in a University of Washington student, the school announced Tuesday.

Genetic sequencing of samples from the Husky Coronavirus Testing program found the variant present in a sample from a student on the Seattle campus. The sample was taken in late January.

>> UW announces coronavirus testing program for students, faculty

“We found the variant in one of those samples, suggesting not only is it here, but it’s on campus,” said Dr. Lea Starita of Brotman Baty Institute at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Brotman Baty researchers are testing samples from campus.

“Let’s not let our guard down now that this variant, that has shown to be at least 50% more transmissible, is here,” Starita said. “Let’s make sure we’re trying to stop the spread even more than before.”

The student who tested positive for the variant is doing well and out of the isolation period. The patient’s close contacts were notified, the school said.

The UK variant of COVID-19 is 30-50% more contagious, meaning it takes less exposure to the virus to infect someone.

At the same time the UK variant was discovered in the UW sample, Starita said five more specimens from King County with the strain were detected.

“That is suggesting to me we’re going the same way as California and Florida, folks,” Starita said.

“I’m afraid, and I think a lot of our modeling team is afraid, that the more transmissible variant is going to cause yet a fourth wave. And Washington may be a little bit behind. It’s now a race between the more transmissible variant and how fast we can get vaccines in arms,” Starita said.

>> More contagious U.K. COVID-19 variant strain found in King County

Students are uneasy now that the strain was discovered on campus.

“It’s not surprising it’s made it here,” UW student Colby Tong said. “What I am concerned about is how fast it’s going to spread.”

Tong and his roommates are a part of the Husky Coronavirus Testing program.

“I think UW has done a good job exercising the ability to control the coronavirus with frequent testing,” said Jacob Bodnar, who lives with Tong in a campus apartment.

After months of quarantine and being careful, their roommate, Lukas Naehrig, said it gives them something else to think about. “Just the uncertainty portion of it that’s worrisome and disappointing. We’ve all tried really hard to quarantine and stay safe, and do the best we can to fight this virus.”

The university said that, while detecting the strain was not a surprise, it is a reminder to students of the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing and signing up for the school testing program.

School officials also caution students to be responsible over spring break and only travel if it is essential.