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The first known case of a new and more contagious coronavirus strain has been reported in Texas, in an adult male resident of Harris County who had no history of travel, according to the state health services department and County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
The variant known as B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom, where it has spread quickly, and cases have been found in several U.S. states, including California and Colorado. It does not cause a more severe disease, and vaccines “are expected to be effective against it,” the health services department said, citing the existing scientific evidence.
Because the man had not traveled, it’s likely the strain is already circulating in Harris County or Texas, health and local officials said Thursday — with Hidalgo saying she didn't want to "pretend... this is something we can contain."
The male is between 30 and 40 years old and from southwest Harris County. He is expected to be isolated until he receives clearance from health officials, who are tracing his contacts and directing those possibly exposed to quarantine, Hidalgo said at a Thursday press conference.
The variant has the potential to “throw jet fuel on an already dangerous situation,” she said. “We’re just learning about this variant, about this new strain, but what we do know is it’s around up to 70% more contagious.”
The announcement comes as the Harris County region had to roll back business capacity after having a high number of hospitalized coronavirus patients for several days. Confirmed new infections and hospitalizations in the state are both at record highs, though the state is also testing more people. Airline passengers traveling from the U.K. to the U.S. must now test negative for the virus before departing.
The case is being investigated by Harris County Public Health and the state health services department, whose officials said the strain is thought to be responsible for a small portion of current coronavirus infections in the state and country.
“Genetic variations are the norm among viruses, and it’s not surprising that it arrived here given how rapidly it spreads,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the state’s health services department.”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.”