More COVID-19 variant cases found in Georgia

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ATLANTA – The Georgia Department of Public Health confirms there are now 19 cases of the UK variant of COVID-19 identified in Georgia. So far, no other COVID-19 variants have been identified in Georgia.

The variant cases in Georgia are in eight men and 11 women between the ages of 15 to 61. The cases live in metro Atlanta – Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett and Paulding counties. State health officials are working to identify close contacts of the individuals and will monitor them closely.

The Georgia Public Health Laboratory and several commercial labs are working to identify the presence of this variant in hundreds of specimens collected at Georgia testing locations statewide, but that is only a small percentage of the overall number of COVID-19 tests performed. At the beginning of the year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was doing genome sequencing tests on 3,000 samples per week and was hoping to increase that to about 6,500 samples per week.

Knowing the location of a few individual cases does not provide a clear picture of where this variant is in the state. Just because it has not been identified in a particular city or county does not mean it is not there -- individuals could be infected anywhere in the state or in some cases out of state. At least 30 states are reporting cases of the UK strain, known as the B.1.1.7 variant.

Preliminary epidemiologic information suggests that this variant is significantly more contagious than the SARS-CoV-2 virus and may increase the risk of death in those who become infected. Both Pfizer and Moderna say their current vaccines appear to work against this variant.

“The CDC has said this UK variant is likely to be the dominant strain in the U.S. by sometime in March,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “We must ensure we are taking every precaution right now to prevent transmission of COVID and to avoid a surge in hospitalizations and loss of life.”

The same measures used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Georgia are no different for this variant and are even more critical due to the UK variant being more contagious: wear a mask, maintain social distance, wash your hands frequently, avoid large gatherings, get a COVID vaccination when you are eligible and follow the guidance of public health and the guidelines in Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order.

Information about this variant is evolving quickly.

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