B.1.1.7. coronavirus variant from the U.K. detected in Benton County

Coronavirus, Tri-Cities, Walla Walla
Model of a coronavirus cell (CDC via AP, File)

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Today’s update from the Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD) was added a small sum of coronavirus cases to the bi-county total. However, an email release this afternoon confirmed the arrival of a new COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom.

According to today’s update from the BFHD, Benton County added only 18 new cases to its total of 14,807 coronavirus cases. Franklin County added only 12 cases, increasing its total to 11,067 coronavirus cases to date. Overall, the bi-county region has registered 25,874 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began a year ago. COVID-related hospitalizations stand at 4% of the bi-county hospital population, which is in line with BFHD standards.

Public health officials confirmed that the B.1.1.7. COVID-19 variant has arrived in Benton County from the U.K. They confirm that this is the first confirmed case of the variant in Eastern Washington. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the strain of this virus is more deadly than any other. However, there is evidence to suggest that it spreads more rapidly, which is a cause for concern for citizens.

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Even so, Dr. Amy Person of the BFHD says there’s no need to panic.

“While there is cause for concern, there is no need for alarm,” Dr. Person said. “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.

The best way to stop virus mutations is to stop spread. Fortunately, we have excellent tools in our toolbox including three vaccines that are highly effective against this strain, and proven methods to stop spread including masking, hand hygiene, distancing, limiting gatherings, and decreasing time around other outside our household.”

Last week, we saw a near 2% decrease in local COVID-19 positivity rates from the CBC West public testing site. From February 14 to Feb. 26, the CBC West saw 12.33% of COVID-19 tests administered return a positive result.

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With community deaths reported once per week on Fridays due to Vital Statistics Laws, we don’t have any updated information as of today. However, Friday’s update saw the cumulative death toll rise to 292 community members lost due to COVID-19. 198 community members from Benton County and 94 from Franklin County have passed away as a result of the coronavirus.

Vaccination efforts have been highly successful in Benton County with over 25,000 vaccinations administered since the site began operations earlier this year. The Benton County Fairgrounds mass vaccination site leads the state’s four major mass vaccination sites in vaccine doses administered thus far. Eligible participants have either received an appointment for their shot or have waited in the holding line to receive a shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

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