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UK Variant Of Coronavirus Found In Chicago Patient

People can protect themselves from the variant, which is more contagious, as they have throughout the pandemic: by social distancing, wearing a mask and staying home, officials have said.

A technician gives instruction as folks line up for free COVID-19 tests at Pritzker College Prep in Chicago's Hermosa neighborhood on Monday, November 30, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The United Kingdom variant of coronavirus has been found in Chicago, health officials announced Friday.

This variant appears to spread more easily than other forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, which has worried health officials. But state and city leaders have emphasized the United Kingdom variant does not appear to cause more severe cases of COVID-19, and vaccines appear to be effective at preventing it.

People can protect themselves as they have throughout the pandemic: by social distancing, wearing a mask and staying home, officials have said.

The variant was first found in the United States two weeks ago, when someone in Colorado became sick with the strain. It has been found in other states — including nearby Indiana and Minnesota — since then, and officials said they thought it was likely in Illinois but simply hadn’t shown up in samples yet.

“This news isn’t surprising and doesn’t change our guidance around COVID-19. We must double down on the recommended safety strategies we know help stop the spread of this virus,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a news release. “In order to protect Chicago, please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not have outside guests in your home, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”

The variant from Chicago was identified at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, which has been studying specimens of COVID-19 positive tests, according to the city health department.

The person who was confirmed to be sick with the United Kingdom strain had traveled to the United Kingdom and to the Middle East two weeks before being diagnosed.

The city’s health department is identifying people who came in close contact with that person and is “reinforc[ing] the importance of adherence with quarantine and isolation measures,” according to the city.

The city’s health department is monitoring the strain, as is the state health department and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mutations to the virus are not surprising, necessarily bad or even rare, Arwady has previously said: Experts expect to see about one mutation every two weeks with SARS-CoV-2. Hospitals in Chicago and around the world regularly do genetic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 strains found in patients to look for mutations and share the results in a public database, Arwady said.

Since already-approved vaccines are believed to work agains the variant, and it spreads the same ways as other forms of the virus, city officials aren’t changing how they’re responding to the pandemic for now, Arwady previously said.

But the variant spread quickly in the United Kingdom, forcing the country back into a lockdown.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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