Harris County tackles Texas' first known case of UK COVID-19 variant

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo addresses the public during a Jan. 7 news conference about the first reported case in Texas of the UK COVID-19 variant. (Screenshot courtesy Office of Judge Lina Hidalgo)
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo addresses the public during a Jan. 7 news conference about the first reported case in Texas of the UK COVID-19 variant. (Screenshot courtesy Office of Judge Lina Hidalgo)

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo addresses the public during a Jan. 7 news conference about the first reported case in Texas of the UK COVID-19 variant. (Screenshot courtesy Office of Judge Lina Hidalgo)

Harris County Public Health is conducting contact tracing an individual who tested positive for the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, a form of the virus discovered in the United Kingdom in December.

This marks the first known case in Harris County and the state of Texas, the county health agency announced Jan. 7.

“We’ve been aggressively investigating all the links with the individual and making sure that people who may have been exposed are quarantining, but I don’t want to pretend like this is something that we can contain,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during a Jan. 7 news conference.

The individual who tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant is a man between ages 30-40 who lives in the southwest quadrant of Harris County. The individual is stable and in isolation and will remain there until cleared by public health officials.

According to Harris County Public Health officials, the individual had no history of travel.

“Which really underscores the importance of the fact that even though this is a UK variant, there is no travel involved, and that likely points to the fact that it’s in our community,” said Dr. Sherri Onyiego, the health authority’s director for nutrition and chronic disease prevention.

The positive variant case was confirmed by the state’s public health authority, the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is urging Texans to redouble social distancing and mask-wearing efforts.

The new variant comes as the positivity rate in Harris County reached 16% and active cases approached 36,000 as of Jan. 7. Total hospital capacity in Trauma Service Area Q—which includes Harris County, Montgomery County, Fort Bend County and six other surrounding counties—has also been stressed, exceeding 15% of total hospital capacity for the past seven consecutive days, which activated state rollbacks that forced businesses to scale back to 50% capacity and bars to close beginning Jan. 5.

What remains unclear is what effect the new variant will have on future positivity rates, though Hidalgo noted that her hands remain tied under state mandates regarding business capacities.

Regardless, the response from the public will continue to be key to reducing the spread of the virus, Hidalgo said.

“It’s not about 75% or 50%. That’s splitting hairs,” Hidalgo said. “It’s about the type of behavioral change that we’ve already seen twice this year that has helped us flatten the curve.”

The B.1.1.7 variant, which scientists believe to be more easily transmitted, does not appear to have more severe symptoms than coronavirus and is believed to be preventable with approved vaccines.

B.1.1.7 is not the only variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to have appeared globally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Denmark reported a “Cluster 5” variant in August and September linked to infection among farmed mink. South Africa reported variant B.1.351 on Dec. 18, with cases found outside the country, while variant B.1.1.207 has hit Nigeria, accounting for around 1% of viral genomes sequenced in the country.
By Hunter Marrow
Hunter Marrow came to Community Impact Newspaper in January 2020. Before that, Hunter covered local news in Ontario, OR for three years, covering municipal issues, crime, and education across Malheur County and across the border into Idaho.


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