A contagious strain of the coronavirus that quickly swept across the UK is officially in Oregon, causing concern to public health officials.
The Oregon Health Authority announced Friday that a resident of Multnomah County with no known travel history had tested positive for the variant, known as B.1.1.7. Before the Oregon case, there were only 88 known infections in 15 states.
Federal officials say the strain is much more transmissible and will likely make up a large portion of U.S. infections by March. While there is no evidence that the strain is more serious or fatal, its ability to pass more easily means more people could become infected and ultimately die during the pandemic.
“The detection of the first case of this variant strain is of concern, and we are monitoring the movement of this strain,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and epidemiologist, said in a statement.
The Oregon Health Authority said Multnomah County public health officials were working Friday night and throughout the weekend to conduct contact tracing related to the infection.
“Confirming this strain locally is distressing,” Multnomah County health officer Dr Jennifer Vines said in a statement. “Until we have enough vaccines, we need to continue to use face masks, to distance ourselves and to limit our social interactions.”
Oregon was among the first states to identify its first case of coronavirus in February 2020 and has performed relatively well throughout the pandemic, reporting fewer cases and deaths per capita than just a handful of states.
It is not immediately clear how state officials learned or confirmed the arrival of the new strain, as only certain coronavirus tests look for variants of the virus. It’s also not immediately clear how many Oregonians who tested positive tested for the variant.
Oregon has seen a dramatic drop in testing this month, with public health officials focusing on getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
– Brad Schmidt; [email protected]; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt