The new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom has been found in Chicago, city health officials announced Friday.
"The case was identified by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine through sequencing analysis of a specimen from bio-banked samples of COVID-19 positive tests," the Chicago Department of Public Health said in a statement.
A CDPH investigation found that the individual had traveled to the UK 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.
“This news isn’t surprising and doesn’t change our guidance around COVID-19. We must double down on the recommended safety strategies we know help stop the spread of this virus,” CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “In order to protect Chicago, please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not have outside guests in your home, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”
This marks the first known case to be identified both in Chicago and Illinois, though the state's top doctor has repeatedly warned that the strain was likely already present and could become dominant in just months.
“When we learned of this and other COVID-19 variants, we increased our surveillance efforts by performing genomic sequence testing on an increased number of specimens,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Friday. “We will continue to collaborate with our academic partners, local health departments like CDPH, hospitals, and the CDC to monitor for additional cases.”
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. 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.