Coronavirus Variant B.1.1.7 Found in Whatcom County

Submitted by the Whatcom County Health Department

Evidence for a new coronavirus variant previously reported elsewhere in Washington has now been found in Whatcom County. Variant B.1.1.7, commonly referred to as the UK variant, spreads more easily than the original COVID-19 strain. 

Photo courtesy Whatcom County Health Department

While this is cause for concern, it isn’t cause for alarm. The things that work to limit transmission of the original strain will also prevent the spread of this new one. But we should be a little more diligent. 

What does ‘new variant’ mean?

Viruses evolve, just like we do. This new variant is the same COVID-19 virus, but better adapted to thrive in its environment – our bodies. 

There are several new COVID-19 strains across the globe right now. The one identified in Whatcom County, B.1.1.7, has several mutations that allow it to “stick” better to the cells in our bodies. This means that when you inhale particles containing the virus, the new strain is more likely to cause infection than the original strain. If you came into close contact with two people, one of whom was infected with the original strain of COVID-19 and one with this new strain, you would be more likely to catch the new strain. 

Both the original and the new variant can cause severe illness requiring hospitalization. The symptoms for both are the same, which include: 

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell

If you experience any of these symptoms, isolate yourself in your home and schedule a COVID-19 test. Seek immediate medical attention if the symptoms worsen or you experience any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Click here for more information about COVID-19 symptoms

What do we do now?

The good news is you don’t have to do anything new to protect yourself from COVID-19 variants. The same things we’ve been doing to limit the spread of the original strain also prevent transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant. These steps include:

  • Wearing a close-fitting mask or face covering with multiple layers.
  • Keeping 6 feet or more away from people you don’t live with.
  • Washing and sanitizing hands often.
  • Keeping gatherings small, infrequent and well-ventilated.
  • When you can, get vaccinated, and keep practicing the steps above. 

Remember, it’s not one or the other – all of the above must be practiced at the same time. If gathering, keep windows and doors open or do it outside, while wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. If you and your friends can’t follow all of these safety precautions, then gathering isn’t safe. 

The vaccine is an important tool in our COVID-19 toolbox, and it protects against the original strain and new variants. But its supply is limited now and vaccinating everyone will take time. When it’s your time to get vaccinated, keep your appointment. In the meantime follow all of the steps outlined above to protect yourself and your community from variant B.1.1.7.

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