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COVID-19 variant traced to United Kingdom confirmed in Spokane County

Pre-filled with measured out doses of the Moderna vaccine Jan. 22, 2021 at a pop-up clinic at Providence Holy Family Hospital in North Spokane.  (By Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

A concerning COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom has infected a person in Spokane County.

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed the first case of the B.1.1.7 variant on Friday morning, after the Department of Health notified them.

The case marks at least 100 confirmed cases of the variant from the U.K. statewide.

The variant is concerning due to its ability to spread easier and quicker than the original virus.

The case in Spokane County was confirmed a few weeks ago. Some positive COVID-19 specimens are sent to virology labs in western Washington, where they are sequenced. That process means that it is possible the person who tested positive with the variant already is recovering.

Washington is conducting sequencing on less than 5% of specimens currently.

This means there likely are more variant cases circulating in Spokane County, and it underscores the importance for residents to isolate when they test positive for COVID-19 and adequately notify anyone they could have been in contact with in the days leading up to that positive test.

“Finding variants in our community does not change how we respond,” Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez said in a news release. “It does reinforce the need for everyone in our county to be diligent in following the health measures. Wear a mask, wash your hands, physically distance, and avoid large gatherings where distancing isn’t possible.”

Those safety measures and getting tested when you are exposed to COVID-19 are the main ways to prevent the variant from spreading in the community.

Thus far, three different COVID-19 variants have been confirmed in Washington, including the variants first detected in South Africa and Brazil, which could affect the effectiveness of vaccines. The majority of variant cases in the state are in Western Washington, but today’s news means at least two cases of the variant first detected in the U.K. have been confirmed east of the Cascades after one was found in Benton County earlier this week.

While variant cases are confirmed to counties, the patient’s identifying information is not included in the samples sent to labs for sequencing. Only certain positive COVID-19 specimens are sent to labs to be sequenced.

“Because of the intense resources required to identify variants, only a portion of collected samples are sent for genotyping,” Dr. Amy Person, health officer for Benton, Franklin and Klickitat counties said in a news release Wednesday. “Although we do have confirmation the variant is in the community, the identification of the B.1.1.7 variant in a specimen indicates a local presence, but not the local prevalence.”

Here’s a look at local numbers:The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 62 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and two additional deaths.

So far, 592 Spokane County residents have died from COVID-19.

There are 41 patients with COVID-19 in Spokane hospitals currently.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 27 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and no additional deaths.

There are 27 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.