The state of Maryland has recorded its first two cases of the U.K. coronavirus variant, Gov. Larry Hogan confirmed at a press conference Tuesday.
The two Anne Arundel County cases come on the heels of a November surge of the coronavirus and as the state trudges through its first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations. Experts say the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be effective against the variant.
The B-117 strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first detected in September, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, although many did not learn about it until last month when it was associated with a significant outbreak across the United Kingdom. The strain has since been detected in states across the U.S., including New York and Colorado.
“All I know is we just got the confirmation,” Hogan said, adding that he had just learned the news moments before he was scheduled to give a press conference about a new initiative designed to reform gerrymandering in the state.
The two people who have tested for the variant, a married couple, live in Anne Arundel County, Hogan said, and one of them had recently returned home from traveling to “multiple continents.”
A private lab “found some strange sequences that [it] didn’t understand” while conducting a routine COVID-19 test and sent the data to the Maryland Public Health Laboratory, which confirmed it was the B-117 strain, Hogan said. The finding was also confirmed with the CDC.
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The B-117 strain is more transmissible than other versions of the virus, but has not yet been shown to cause more severe illness or resistance to the current COVID-19 vaccines, according to a press release from the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.
As of Monday, the CDC reported that 72 cases of the B-117 strain have been detected in ten different states, including 32 cases in California and 22 in Florida. Other variants of the virus causing COVID-19 have also been identified in South Africa and Nigeria.
Hogan said the state of Maryland is testing for the B-117 strain at five times the national average.
The state is conducting contract tracing to determine who the two people with the B-117 strain interacted with since the one returned from their travels, Hogan added. The married couple also has two children who have not yet been tested but are quarantining with their parents, he said.
“This is something we are going to focus a lot of attention on immediately — as soon as I get done talking to you,” said Hogan.