MILWAUKEE — State health officials said a COVID-19 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom has now been found in Wisconsin.

On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and laboratory partners identified a variant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The strain is known as B.1.1.7, and it was first discovered in England back in November. 

The variant was identified in an Eau Claire resident, the Eau Claire City - County Health Department confirmed.

Researchers believe that this new strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain that causes COVID-19. However, there is no evidence that the new strain causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. 

“We already know that COVID-19 is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, and with this new variant appearing to be even more infectious, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask and physically distancing are even more important,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said.

The DHS said the strain was identified through ongoing surveillance and whole genome sequencing, a routine practice since the pandemic begasn.

All viruses, including the one that causes COVID-19, change through mutation, and new variants of the virus are expected to occur over time, the DHS noted.

“Mutations among viruses are very common,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard said. “It’s not unusual – in fact, it’s expected. As time goes on in the pandemic and the virus continues to replicate on a large scale, the genetic sequence of the virus will change.”

The variant was first found in the U.S. in Colorado earlier this month.


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