The new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom has been found in Indiana, state health officials announced Monday.
The strain was identified through testing at the Indiana Department of Health laboratory and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials said, noting that it does not cause more severe infections but is more easily spread.
“It’s common for viruses to mutate, and we are seeing that occur with COVID-19,” State Health Commissioner Kris Box said in a statement. "Because this strain of the virus can be transmitted more easily, it’s more important than ever that Hoosiers continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they are eligible.”
At least four other states have recently confirmed the presence of the new virus: Colorado, California, Florida and New York. The first U.S. case of the U.K. virus was detected by health officials in Colorado at the end of December in a man in his 20s who also had no recent travel history.
The British variant was first detected in September, World Health Organization officials previously said. Since then, cases have skyrocketed across the U.K., resulting in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to impose a national lockdown.
The U.K. variant is one of two new contagious viral strains that have recently emerged, the CDC said in a telebriefing late last month. While evidence to date does not indicate either appears to result in more severe infections or higher death rates, the CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, Dr. Henry Walke, did warn that the heightened ease of transmission could translate to many more cases.
Indiana health officials announced the presence of the new strain at the same time they announced 3,726 new coronavirus cases and 30 additional deaths.
The new cases brought statewide totals to 567,338 cases and 8,643 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the ISDH. An additional 373 deaths were reported as probable COVID-19 deaths based on clinical diagnoses in patients without a positive test on record, authorities said.
In the last 24 hours, 31,804 tests have been administered to 10,609 individuals, officials say.
Over the last week, the state has reported a positivity rate of 16.5% on all coronavirus tests, with a seven-day positivity rate of 28.4% among individual residents tested during that time.
Those positivity rates mark a continued increase in those figures after a decline through much of the month of December. In early December, the state hit its highest positivity rate since the initial spike in COVID cases in the spring of 2020, but figures are now trending toward eclipsing that number unless a decline is seen in the coming days.
After peaking in late November, hospitalizations have largely continued to decline in Indiana, with 2,537 patients currently hospitalized as a result of the virus, officials say. Of those patients, 2,210 are confirmed to have COVID-19, while 327 are awaiting test results for the virus.
Around 26.8% of the state’s ICU beds are available, with 26.4% of the state’s ICU beds currently in use by COVID-19 patients, according to the ISDH.