The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH)) today confirmed the state’s first case of the “UK variant,” or B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, has been identified in a Teton County adult male.
While further investigation is ongoing, early information suggests exposure to the virus variant occurred locally.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said the department is not surprised and expected the variant would be found in Wyoming at some point.
“It is not unusual for variants to emerge with viruses and that’s been happening during this pandemic with COVID-19,” Harrist said. “However, this strain is more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants and that is a serious concern.”
Harrist noted the UK variant does not appear to cause illnesses to be more serious. “But a variant spreading more easily between people means the number of infections could grow causing more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. “That’s something no one wants.”
“So, it is still very important for Wyoming residents to wear masks, to practice physical distancing and avoid large gatherings and to stay home when they are ill unless seeking medical care,” Harrist said.
“We also don’t want people to avoid testing if they may have been exposed or are have symptoms that could be COVID-19,” Harrist said. In addition to local testing options, WDH offers free at-home COVID-19 testing through a company called Vault Health. These tests are available to Wyoming residents at no cost; insurance is not necessary. Learn more at https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-at-home-testing/
Currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines are believed to be effective against the UK variant strain. Wyoming vaccine distribution information can be found at https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/immunization/wyoming-covid-19-vaccine-information/.
While Wyoming’s initial case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant was discovered at a commercial healthcare lab, the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory (WPHL) is also monitoring samples for this and other COVID-19 variants. WPHL is part of WDH.