Medical staff examine a patient suffering from coronavirus in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) at United Memorial Medical Center on November 16, 2020 in Houston, Texas.
Go Nakamura | Getty Images
Texas public health officials announced on Thursday that they have identified the state’s first case of a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was initially discovered in the United Kingdom.
The patient, a man between the ages of 30 and 40 with no recent travel history, was discovered in Harris County, home to Houston, the county’s public health department said in a statement. The man was isolating and in stable condition, and local infectious disease experts are tracing all of his contacts to find and monitor other people he may have exposed to the virus.
It’s likely that the variant is already circulating in Texas because the man had no prior travel history, Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement. He added that genetic variations in viruses “are the norm,” and it’s not surprising that the variant was discovered in Texas considering how rapidly it spreads.
“This should make us all redouble our commitment to the infection prevention practices that we know work: masks any time you’re around people you don’t live with, social distancing, and personal and environmental hygiene,” Hellerstedt said.
The strain, which has also been found in California, Georgia, New York, Florida and Colorado, is thought to be more transmissible but doesn’t appear to make people more ill or increase the risk of death from Covid-19, experts have said. Earlier on Thursday, Pennsylvania health authorities said they identified their state’s first case with the new variant, known as B.1.1.7.
Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that the current vaccines should work against the new variant, though it could lead to more hospitalizations.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said in a tweet on Thursday that the discovery of the variant in the area is “disturbing” given the already rapid spread in the area.
As of Thursday, the county remained in its most severe “level one” threat level, which means testing and contact tracing efforts are strained and outbreaks are “present or worsening,” according to the county’s website.
When the county is in this level, residents are advised to only leave their homes for essential purposes and minimize their contacts with other people when possible.
This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.