A COVID-19 variant first found in the United Kingdom and believed to be more easily transmitted has arrived in New England, with Connecticut confirming two cases this week.
The office of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday the variant, known as B.1.1.7, was found in two people between the ages of 15 and 25 who reside in New Haven County.
While the cases of the variant have not been confirmed in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has said residents should assume it is already in the Bay State and act accordingly.
The U.K. variant of the disease -- which scientists say spreads more easily -- has been detected across the U.S., including Colorado, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania.
Here's what to know about the variant and its arrival in the region.
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One of the individuals who tested positive for the variant recently traveled to Ireland, while the other traveled to New York State, officials said.
The two individuals developed symptoms within three to four days of returning to Connecticut. According to the state, the two cases are unrelated, according to genetic sequencing of the virus.
“The U.K. variant is widely assumed to be more highly transmissible than other strains of the virus,” Connecticut Public Health Acting Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said in a statement. “However, our current vaccines should be effective against this strain, and we continue to urge everyone who is currently eligible to get the vaccine to do so. Not everyone who tests positive will know whether they have this particular strain of the virus, so it is imperative for people to continue to follow all the public health guidance – continue to wear masks, social distance, and avoid gatherings with anyone outside your household. And if you test positive for COVID-19, you must isolate and take all precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Of the two people found with the variant, one has completed their self-isolation period and the other is self-isolating at home for 10 days past the onset of symptoms and will wait until they are symptom-free, the governor's office said.
The state informed the Centers for Disease Control of the findings.
“As we said last week, given the speed of this new strand of the virus and its identification in several states throughout our country, we presumed it was already in our state and this information this morning confirms that fact,” Lamont said in a statement. “This is another reason why everyone should continue taking precautions to prevent transmission of this disease, including wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing. The health of Connecticut residents remains our top priority, and our public health officials will continue to closely monitor these cases and any other developments with this contagious virus.”
The State Public Health Laboratory (SPHL) started enhanced surveillance testing last week for the variant, according to the governor's office.
According to state officials, the variant, while more easily transmitted, is not believed to be more deadly or impactful of vaccine effectiveness.
Gov. Baker Says Assume Variant Already in Mass.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday said his administration is working under the assumption the new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus has arrived in the state, urging residents to continue following health guidelines.
"I think most of us are working on the assumption that it's here," Baker said at a press conference at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. "There would be no reason not to."
The governor said the Department of Public Health was sending COVID-19 case data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which he said was ultimately responsible for determining where in the country the new variant has spread.
Still, Baker underscored the need for people to refrain from unnecessary social gatherings and follow guidelines set forth by the state.
"I'll go back to my little speech about how important it is for people to wear masks, maintain distance and recognize and appreciate that when you're not with the people you live with, you really ought to be very vigilant and careful and cautious about your physical engagement with other people," he said.
"Everything we can do to be vigilant is going to protect you and the members of your family from getting the virus or potentially giving it to someone else."
Pfizer says its vaccines appears to be effective against variant
The research, published Thursday and not yet peer-reviewed, suggested the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked to neutralize the so-called N501Y mutation.
These findings are good news for the likely effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against these new variants of SARS-CoV-2," said Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand.
"In other words, the Pfizer vaccine is likely to induce immunity that covers the two new more infectious variants originating in England and South Africa," he added.
Pfizer and researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch conducted the study on blood taken from people who had been given the Covid-19 vaccine.
The findings are limited, however, because the study does not look at the full set of mutations found in either of the new rapidly spreading variants.