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More infectious COVID-19 strain detected in Wyoming

“UK variant” not believed to cause more serious illness


January 21, 2021

A more infectious strain of COVID-19 that was first identified in Europe has now been detected in this state, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. The “UK variant” was identified on January 16 in an adult male from Teton County.

Early information suggests that the patient was exposed to the variant locally. This was not a surprise, according to state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist: the department fully expected to find the variant 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 in a press release. “However, this strain is more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants and that is a serious concern.”

At this time, the UK variant is not thought to cause COVID-19 infections to be more serious. The issue is rather that it has the potential to cause more infections overall.

“A variant spreading more easily between people means the number of infections could grow causing more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. That’s something no one wants,” said Harrist.

“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.”

The currently available vaccines against COVID-19 are thought to be effective against the new variant. The Wyoming Public Health Laboratory is monitoring samples for this and other variants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the UK variant is one of several known to be circulating globally. The UK variant was first detected in September and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England and has been detected in numerous other countries, including the U.S.

The South Africa variant shares some mutations but emerged independently, according to the CDC. Cases have been caused by this strain outside South Africa but it has not yet been detected in the U.S.

The Brazilian variant contains a set of additional mutations that the CDC says may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. It was identified in four travelers from Brazil during a routine screening at an airport outside Tokyo, Japan and has not yet been detected in the U.S.

The CDC says scientists are working as quickly as possible to learn more about these variants. More studies are needed to understand how widely they have spread, how the disease they cause differs and what effect they will have on existing therapies and vaccines.

“Currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death,” says the information provided by the CDC on the new variants. “However, an increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations and potentially more deaths.” 

Vaccination Program

The COVID-19 vaccination program continues to roll out across the state, with many counties still working on the first phase of distribution. Others, like Crook County, have now moved on to the next stage, called “phase 1b,” which includes persons aged 70 or older as well as frontline essential workers who must interact with the public and are unable to consistently physically distance.

Crook County Public Health is calling for all persons interested in receiving a vaccine to call the office at 283-1142 to be placed on the waiting list, irrespective of which phase you fall into. Once your phase is announced, you will be contacted when a vaccine becomes available.

Crook County is using the Moderna version of the vaccine, which requires a second dose 28 days after the first. This second appointment will be scheduled once you have received your first dose.

Wyoming as a whole has now received 40,975 first vaccine doses split roughly evenly between the Moderna and Pfizer versions. Of those, 23,172 had been administered by Tuesday.

A total of 17,800 second doses have now been received, including 10,000 of the Moderna and 7800 of the Pfizer. Of those, 3901 have been administered.

A COVID-19 vaccination is free and you will not be asked to pay any fees. The phased approach being used across Wyoming is in response to the limited initial availability of the vaccines.

Current Stats

Despite the potential presence of a new COVID-19 variant, it’s been a quiet week for Crook County on the pandemic front. Most days have included no new local cases of the virus, bringing the total up by just five to 371 confirmed cases overall, with the number of probable cases remaining at 31.

Hospitalizations in the county have also stayed steady, with just one patient reported within Crook County Memorial Hospital at this time. This reflects the falling number of hospitalizations across the state: on Tuesday, just 88 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19, compared to the all-time high of 247 on November 30.

The Department of Health announced 28 deaths on January 19, including 21 with health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness and ten residents of long-term care facilities. None of the deaths occurred within Crook County, leaving the county’s overall total at nine; in Wyoming, a total of 550 people have now died due to COVID-19.

The number of active cases in Wyoming has hovered around the 2000 mark over the last week, dropping and rising daily between a high of 2327 on January 12 to a low of 1789 on January 19.


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