The first case of the COVID-19 variant was identified in Lake County, health officials announced Saturday.
The Lake County Health Department reported the first case of the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which is the strain more commonly circulating the U.K. in recent months.
The individual infected with the variant had traveled internationally and was in contact with a sick person before leaving to return back to the U.S. in late December, health officials said.
According to the department, the individual did not experience any symptoms of the coronavirus.
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“We expect to see more cases of these new variants in Lake County as they seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants,” Dr. Sana Ahmed, Medical Epidemiologist for LCHD, said. “It is extremely important that you follow quarantine recommendations and get tested if you have traveled or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19."
Health officials reminded that studies suggest the currently available COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the new strains.
In Illinois, the first known case of the more contagious strain was announced by health officials on Friday, Jan. 15.
A Chicago Department of Public Health investigation found that the individual had traveled to the U.K. and the Middle East in the 14 days prior to diagnosis, officials said, noting that the department had worked to identify the person's close contacts to alert them to quarantine and isolate.
While much remains uncertain about the new COVID-19 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom, Illinois' top doctor said Friday that enough is known, so people are able to take the proper precautions.
"...If something is more transmissible, that would suggest that we need to double down on mask wearing," Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of Illinois Department of Public Health said Friday, as she also stressed social distancing and handwashing. "Like all those things we've been saying...the message doesn't really change, it just means it's now more important than ever before to adhere to them [mitigations]."
A U.K. scientist revealed some evidence suggests the strain carries a higher risk of death than the original strain, although he cautioned that the data is uncertain.
Patrick Vallance, the British government's chief scientific adviser said that for a man in his 60s with the original version of the virus, “the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die.”
“With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” he said.
At a coronavirus news briefing Friday, both Ezike and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said mitigations could be increased throughout the state if there are widespread reports of the new variant.
"If we do see an a surge in terms of the U.K. variant, we know that it starts to multiply very quickly, once it takes a significant hold," Ezike said. "We know the numbers now are very, very low. But that can change..."
The doctor previously warned that the newly-discovered strain could be dominant by as early as March.
The British variant was first detected in September, World Health Organization officials previously announced. 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.