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Texas health officials identify state’s first case of new Covid strain found in UK

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Medical staff examine a patient with coronavirus in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on November 16, 2020.

Go Nakamura | Getty Images

Public health officials in Texas announced Thursday that they had identified the state’s first case for a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was originally discovered in the United Kingdom.

The patient, a man between 30 and 40 years of age with no travel history, was discovered in Harris County, home of Houston, the county health department said in a statement. The man was isolated and in stable condition, and local infectious disease experts are following all of his contacts to find and monitor other people he may have exposed to the virus.

It’s likely the variant is already floating around in Texas as the man had no history, said Dr. John Hellerstedt, the Texas Department of Health commissioner, in a statement. He added that genetic variations in viruses “are the norm,” and it’s not surprising that the variant was discovered in Texas, given how quickly it spreads.

“This should get us all to double our commitment to the infection prevention methods we know: masks when you are around people you don’t live with, social distancing, and personal and environmental hygiene,” Hellerstedt said.

The strain, which has also been found in California, Georgia, New York, Florida, and Colorado, is believed to be communicable but doesn’t appear to make people sicker or increase the risk of death from Covid-19, experts have said. Earlier Thursday, Pennsylvania health officials said they had identified their state’s first case with the new variant known as B.1.1.7.

Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s most elected official, said in a tweet Thursday that the discovery of the variant in the region was “worrying” given its already rapid spread.

As of Thursday, the district was still in its most serious threat level, “Level 1”. This means that testing and contact tracing efforts are strained and outbreaks are “present or worsening” according to the county’s website.

When the county is at this level, residents are advised to only leave their homes for essential purposes and to minimize contact with other people whenever possible.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that current vaccines should work against the new variant, although additional hospitalizations could occur if allowed to spread uncontrollably. Federal health officials are also on the lookout for a second separate new strain, first identified in South Africa.

The CDC does not yet know how widespread the new variant B.1.1.7 is in the USA. The agency now requires all passengers traveling from the UK to the US to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding, which was carried out no later than three days before their departure.

– CNBC’s Will Feuer contributed to this report.

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