February 24, 2021

Melissa Morin, Public Information Officer
Whatcom County Health Department
(360) 594-2504

Evidence for B.1.1.7 Coronavirus Variant found In Whatcom County

Whatcom County Health Department was notified yesterday afternoon by the Washington State Department of Health that the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus variant B.1.1.7, commonly known as the U.K. variant, had been detected in a Whatcom County resident.

 “We are concerned but not alarmed about the detection of this variant in Whatcom County,” said Dr. Greg Stern, Whatcom County Health Officer. “It has been present in other counties in our region for several weeks, and we expected that it would eventually be identified in Whatcom County as well.”

 This variant transmits infection more effectively than the original strain. There is some recent evidence from the U.K. that this variant may increase the risk of hospitalization or death, but those findings have not yet been confirmed.   

 The two vaccines authorized for use in the U.S., Moderna and Pfizer, have not shown decreased effectiveness with this variant. Vaccine supply is currently limited even for those who are now eligible, but supplies are expected to increase in the coming weeks. 

Because this variant is more easily transmitted, measures that reduce or prevent transmission are even more important: 

  • Wear a close-fitting mask in public and with anyone outside the household. Masks should cover both nose and mouth and have multiple layers. 
  • Avoid indoor social gatherings. If gathering indoors, wear a mask and keep windows and doors open to maximize ventilation. 
  • Wash hands often or use hand sanitizer when water and soap are not available. 
  • Sign up for Washington Exposure Notifications (also known as WA Notify), a free tool that works through smartphones without sharing any personal information and alerts users if they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

“The measures we have been taking to slow the spread of COVID-19 -- wearing masks, washing hands, watching our distance -- are effective against this variant,” said Stern. “It’s even more important now to diligently take these preventive steps as we wait for more vaccine."

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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