The ‘UK variant’ of COVID-19 is present in Teton County

JACKSON, Wyo. — A variant of COVID-19, that sent Britain into another lockdown last month, has been discovered in Jackson Hole. The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) confirmed the state’s first case of the “UK variant,” or B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, today, Jan. 16. The variant has been identified in a Teton County adult male.

While further investigation is ongoing, early information suggests exposure to the virus variant occurred locally.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said the department is not surprised and expected the variant would be found in Wyoming at some point.

The strain is a mutation of the common COVID-19 virus that has spread worldwide. Viruses naturally evolve as they spread from person-to-person, it is why new flu shots are developed each year.

“It is not unusual for variants to emerge with viruses and that’s been happening during this pandemic with COVID-19,” Harrist said. “However, this strain is more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants and that is a serious concern.”

Harrist noted the UK variant does not appear to cause illnesses to be more serious. “But a variant spreading more easily between people means the number of infections could grow causing more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. “That’s something no one wants.”

“So, it is still very important for Wyoming residents to wear masks, to practice physical distancing and avoid large gatherings, and to stay home when they are ill unless seeking medical care,” Harrist said.

“We also don’t want people to avoid testing if they may have been exposed or are have symptoms that could be COVID-19,” Harrist said. In addition to local testing options, WDH offers free at-home COVID-19 testing through the company Vault Health. These tests are available to Wyoming residents at no cost; insurance is not necessary.

Currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines are believed to be effective against the UK variant strain. Wyoming vaccine distribution information can be found here.

While Wyoming’s initial case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant was discovered at a commercial healthcare lab, the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory (WPHL) is also monitoring samples for this and other COVID-19 variants. WPHL is part of WDH.

There are 273 active covid-19 cases as of Jan. 15, in Teton County.

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