A more contagious strain of the novel coronavirus has been identified in Utah, marking the first time the variant — which was initially discovered in the United Kingdom late last year and is known as B.1.1.7 — has been found in the state.
Officials with the Utah Department of Health in a news release on Friday said the B.1.1.7 variant was discovered “through ongoing genetic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples by the Utah Public Health Laboratory.”
The case was identified in a male between the ages of 25 and 44 who lives in Salt Lake City. He tested positive for the virus last month, officials said, adding that he had “no known travel outside of Utah and experienced only mild symptoms.”
Health officials said it was only a matter of time before the strain was identified in Utah, as a growing number of states across the county have identified cases of the U.K. variant.
“We fully anticipated we would find this strain in Utah. We know this strain is more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants, and our hospitals continue to operate near or over capacity. So now more than ever, Utah residents need to wear masks, practice physical distancing, and avoid large gatherings,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health, in a statement.
Colorado was the first U.S. state to identify the mutation, and it has since been found in New York, California, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana, among others. On Monday, Minnesota health officials announced five cases of the B.1.1.7 strain.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that more than 50 cases of the mutated coronavirus strain have been identified across the U.S., and experts have cautioned that the variant is likely already widespread across the country. That figure has since exceeded 70 cases, though federal health officials have warned the true total is likely greater than the numbers reported.
Though the strain is thought to be more transmissible than COVID-19, experts are confident that existing coronavirus vaccines will work against the variant.