South African COVID-19 variant detected in Washington

OLYMPIA, Wash. — According to a release from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in King County. In layman’s terms, the newest variant of COVID-19 stemming from South Africa has been confirmed in the state of Washington.

Using genomic sequencing, health specialists at the University of Washington Medicine Virology Laboratory identified the new variant in the patient. Authorities say that this individual tested positive for COVID-19 on January 29, 2021. Contact tracing efforts were a non-starter for public health officials as other details including travel history are not available.

Furthermore, 19 additional cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom have been detected in the state. There are currently 39 confirmed cases of this U.K. variant in Washington state. Luckily, no cases of the P.1 variant from Brazil have been detected in the state thus far.


There’s no evidence to suggest that the South African variant of COVID-19 is any stronger than the strains we’ve faced throughout Washington since early 2020. Even so, Acting State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Lindquist, expressed the importance of combatting this new strain of the virus before it makes the situation in Washington state direr.

“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,” Dr. Lindquist said. “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.”

Seattle/King County’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin, is taking action to ensure the region stays safe as vaccine efforts increase in an attempt to move past the pandemic.

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“COVID-19 is threatening us in new ways, and we need to rise to the challenge,” Dr. Duchin said. “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.

The B.1.351 strain from South Africa has been found in 10 states, according to the DOH. Unlike other new variants of COVID-19, it’s not known to spread more rapidly or cause any more impactful health conditions. However, this strain may be more resilient to the currently-approved COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and other companies.

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