A more contagious strain of coronavirus was detected for the first time in Alaska, health officials announced Tuesday.
In December, an Anchorage resident became infected with a strain of virus that was originally detected in the United Kingdom and can spread more easily between people, the state’s health department said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
The Anchorage resident was recently in a state where the virus variant had previously been detected, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The individual began showing symptoms of the virus on Dec. 17, got tested on Dec. 20 and received positive results on Dec. 22.
After learning of the positive result, the person isolated, though a person they lived with also became sick. The two have both recovered and did not have contact with other people, health officials said in the statement.
Public health officials said it wasn’t unexpected to find the virus in Alaska. The new strain spreads faster and more easily between people, state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said in the department’s announcement.
“We are hopeful that transmission of this particular variant stopped with these two individuals, but we will very likely detect the variant strain again soon,” the state’s chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink said in a prepared statement.
So far, 293 cases of the virus variant have been detected nationwide in 24 different states including Washington state, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, only a small fraction of the cases across the country are sequenced in order to find the strain.
Earlier this month, federal officials from the CDC said the virus variant could become the dominant strain of coronavirus circulating in the United States by March.
The strain is not thought to make people any sicker, but an uptick in transmission of the virus could mean more people infected at once. That can strain health care systems and lead to more deaths, according to the CDC.
The state of Alaska has been sequencing COVID-19 cases since March, which is a way to look for the new variants. The state’s virology lab in Fairbanks found the UK variant strain, which was then confirmed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks lab, before the state’s health department ultimately notified the CDC of its finding on Monday.
Health officials have continued to stress that in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19, including the new strains, practices like staying 6 feet or more from others, wearing a face covering, washing hands, avoiding gatherings, keeping social bubbles small and isolating upon experiencing symptoms are critical.