TRI-CITIES, WA - COVID-19 cases are trending down across the Mid-Columbia. But the Benton-Franklin Health District is warning with one of the new COVID-19 variants in Washington, another spike may be in the future.

Washington Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control have identified 15 cases of the COVID-19 variant, called B117, across Washington state.

No cases of the new variant have been reported in Benton and Franklin counties but Dr. Amy Person, health officer with the Benton-Franklin Health District said it's just a matter of time and is urging the community to not let our guards down.

"That variant can be transmitted more easily, so it could easily lead to a new spike in disease activity," Person said. 

Person said the health district's goal is to keep the low case numbers low and consistent while getting more vaccines out to the community.

With the new variant ramping up in other areas, Person said it's more important now to keep up safe health practices even after being vaccinated and entering phase two of reopening.

"We also hope as the health district people will take those necessary precautions even as they are enjoying more social and economic activities," Person said.   

So far in Benton and Franklin counties, 29,000 people have received at least the first dose of the vaccine.

The Kennewick mass vaccination is closed for the rest of the week because of a delay in their COVID-19 shipment due to winter weather. More vaccine doses are expected to arrive next week.

Storms all over the country have caused delivery delays and Heather Hill RN, BSN, Communicable Diseases Manager for BFHD said no one wants to risk losing doses in transit. 

"They (vaccines) come from a warehouse on the other side of the United States... the concern with the inclement weather across the nation the last thing anyone would want is for the vaccines to get partway here and get stuck in transit," Hill said. 

The vaccines have to stay very cold especially the Pfizer vaccine, she said there is a short window of time to deliver them safely. 

Once the vaccines do get here the Benton County Mass Vaccination site is making second doses a priority. 

"We will have not only the Pfizer available, but we will also be getting the Moderna vaccine for those of you who got the initial doses of Moderna," Hill said. 

The health district has not been given a timeline of when they can move into the next phase for vaccinations and hope the announcement will come soon.

"We don't want to erase the progress we've made, so we are asking people to continue to stay the course," Dr. Person said.