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]."
On Friday, 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.
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 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.
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 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.