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U.K. COVID-19 Variant Detected In Austin-Travis County

COVID-19 testing takes place at a drive-thru clinic in South Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
COVID-19 testing takes place at a drive-thru clinic in South Austin.

The U.K. variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Austin-Travis County, officials announced Wednesday evening. Scientists don’t believe the variant is deadlier, but it is more contagious.

Though it hadn’t been confirmed until now, Austin Public Health officials have been saying for weeks that a variant was likely present in the area.

“While it is concerning that there is a confirmed COVID-19 variant in Austin-Travis County, it does not come as a surprise,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said in a press release.

Though the new variant is more transmissible, it spreads the same way as the original virus. Hayden-Howard said people need to continue the same prevention measures APH has been pushing over the last year: wear a mask in public, social distance, avoid gatherings and wash hands frequently.

Vaccines available right now are thought to be effective against variants, according to Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County.

“It is common for viruses to mutate, especially when the original virus is in the community longer,” he said in a press release. “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.”

The B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant present in Austin-Travis County was confirmed through lab testing from a private organization and reported to the state. APH says many labs, including its own, don’t yet have the ability to test for variants. So, data in APH’s COVID-19 dashboards won’t distinguish by variant.

The U.K. variant was first confirmed in Texas on Jan. 7 in Harris County. The man had no history of travel, signaling the virus had already been circulating in the state.

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Marisa Charpentier