First case of COVID-19 variant from South Africa identified in Washington State, King County

OLYMPIA, WA -The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) along with Public Heath – Seattle & King County and the UW Medicine Virology Lab, announce that the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in King County, WA.

The variant, initially identified in South Africa, was identified yesterday through genomic sequencing at the UW Medicine Virology Laboratory. The patient tested positive for COVID-19 on January 29, 2021. Other details about the case, including travel history are not available as the person was not able to be reached through contact tracing efforts.

At the same time, a virology lab found evidence of 19 additional cases of the B.1.1.7 variant strain in Washington state. First identified in the United Kingdom, this brings the total number of known cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Washington state to 39. Currently, there are no confirmed cases of the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil.

“The finding underscores the importance of genomic surveillance by sequencing, which allows us to identify variants currently circulating in the population,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor, Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Washington School of Medicine.

“The detection of these COVID-19 variants in our state reminds us that this pandemic is not over. Despite the decrease in our case count, we are very concerned about the emergence of these variants and how it will affect future case counts. As a community, we need to re-double our efforts to prevent the spread of this virus and its variants by following public health guidance,” said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH.

“COVID-19 is threatening us in new ways, and we need to rise to the challenge,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Heath – Seattle & King County. “The B.1.1.7 variant can spread more readily and B.1.351 viruses might reduce vaccine effectiveness. For these reasons we need to continue to do all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and push our case rates as low as possible.”

“This means limiting activities outside the home, wearing well-made and well-fitting face masks, avoiding or limiting time indoors with others outside the home and in crowded indoor spaces, improving indoor ventilation, and good hand washing,” he added.