New UK COVID strain found in Essex County

Coronavirus (Image provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

An Essex County resident has been diagnosed with the new U.K. variant of COVID-19.

This strain of the coronavirus, which scientists believe is more contagious than earlier versions, has not been detected in Essex County before. No hospital in Clinton, Essex or Franklin counties has the capability to test in-house for the variant, and until this week, the random sampling for the variant at the state’s top lab, the Wadsworth Center in Albany, hadn’t uncovered a case of the variant here.

The Essex County Health Department announced the lab’s discovery late Wednesday night. Scant details were available at that time.

“Public health experts are working to better understand the potential impact of this variant, including how the variant spreads and how it affects people who are infected with it,” said county Health Department Senior Public Health Educator Andrea Whitmarsh.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing masks, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds, ventilating indoor spaces and washing hands often to curb the spread of the virus, Whitmarsh stressed. Those same recommendations will also prevent the spread of this variant, she said.

“We will share more information about this latest development as it becomes available,” Whitmarsh said.

This new variant of the coronavirus is known as B.1.1.7, according to the New York Times. The first case of it was identified in the U.S. in Colorado on Dec. 29, 2020, and the first case in New York was found on Jan. 4 in Saratoga Springs.

At first, scientists estimated the new coronavirus variant was 70% more transmissible, but a recent modeling study put that number at 56%, the Times reported last week. It’s possible that the variant will turn out to be just 10-20% more transmissible, once all of the data is processed.

Though it was initially believed that this version of the virus could be more deadly, so far the virus has behaved similarly to previous versions — though because it’s more contagious, more people can be infected faster, and the U.S. death toll will likely rise.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have found its coronavirus vaccines are still effective against the new coronavirus mutations.