The Louisiana Department of Health confirmed the state’s first identified case of a new, more easily spread variant of COVID-19 in the Greater New Orleans area, officials said.
SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7., which is often referred to as the “U.K. variant” because of its prevalence in the United Kingdom, spreads more easily than other viral strains in the country, according to officials.
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LDH conducted an investigation and contact tracing to identify those in close contact with the infected person, who reportedly has a history of travel outside of the state. The variant strain, which officials say is likely circulating in Louisiana, has been detected in at least 15 other states.
“It is urgent that everyone double down on the mitigation measures that we know are effective in reducing the spread of the virus,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. “It was always a matter of time before this new strain of the virus would reach Louisiana, which is why our state health experts have been monitoring cases and working with the CDC to prepare.”
LDH has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance Program in preparation for this variant strain, sending bi-weekly samples for sequencing since November 2020.
The U.K. variant has not been shown to cause more severe disease, officials added, and health experts believe that current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against this strain.
Health experts advise people to continue to wash their hands, wear masks and social distance to prevent the spread of this more contagious variant strain.
“There is no such thing as taking this too seriously,” Edwards said. “Even with the vaccines available, controlling our behavior with the measures that are proven to help keep us safe is our best defense against spreading this virus to our family, friends and throughout our communities.”