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Austin Public Health confirms first case of UK COVID-19 variant in Travis County

Local health officials said it is not a cause for alarm and the variant has already been suspected to be in the area for weeks.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Public Health announced on Wednesday it has confirmed the first case of the U.K. COVID-19 variant, or B.1.1.7, in Austin-Travis County.

The variant was discovered and confirmed through lab testing by a local organization and it was reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“While it is concerning that there is a confirmed COVID-19 variant in Austin-Travis County, it does not come as a surprise,” said APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard. “It is important to remember that these COVID-19 variants spread the same way, and so it is important to continue the prevention measures we have been using for almost a year. People need to keep wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding gatherings and washing your hands frequently.”

According to APH, coronavirus variants have been likely in Austin-Travis County for weeks after a Harris County man with no history of travel was discovered to have a variant in January.

Local health officials said APH lab testing will detect the coronavirus, but at this time extended lab testing is necessary to find out the variant strains.

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“It is common for viruses to mutate, especially when the original virus is in the community longer. Based on everything we have heard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the variants are potentially more contagious than the original virus, they are not more deadly,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis Health Authority. “From our understanding, currently approved vaccines are effective against the variants, and while this may be a reason to reemphasize the importance of prevention measures, it is not cause for alarm.” 

Currently, not all labs have the capabilities to test for the variants, which is why data published on the local COVID-19 dashboards will not be distinguished by variant.

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