Coronavirus News

Dallas sees its first case of new more-contagious COVID-19 variant

Dallas sees its first case of new more-contagious COVID-19 variant

Coronavirus COVID-19
The virus uses a spiky protein to attach to and infect cells. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Dallas County health officials have confirmed the first appearance in Dallas of a new COVID-19 variant.

According to a release, Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) identified the first known case in Dallas County of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant first discovered in the United Kingdom. This is the third case identified within the State of Texas. The first case in Texas surfaced in Houston on January 7.

In Dallas, the case was found in a male in his 20s who lives in the city of Dallas, who had no recent history of travel outside the U.S. Genetic sequencing showed that his infection was caused by the variant. He's stable and in isolation, and DCHHS epidemiologists are identifying and notifying close contacts.

In a statement, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins warns that this variant is even more contagious than the original.

"The emergence of strain B.1.1.7, while inevitable given the mobility of the modern world and the fact that we are a major transportation hub, means that there is a strain that is 70 percent more contagious in our community and it will grow quickly," Jenkins says.

First identified in the United Kingdom in September 2020, the B.1.1.7 variant appears to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, and may lead to an increase in cases. But it does not appear to cause symptoms that are more serious.

The variant is concerning because it has so many mutations — nearly two dozen — and some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. That spike is what current vaccines target.

Current scientific evidence is that the currently approved vaccines will be effective against this variant, as well.

DCHHS Director Dr. Philip Huang predicts that more cases of the variant are out there among us.

"This is now the third identified case in Texas and we can assume there are more cases in our community due to the nature of this variant and how quickly it spreads," Huang says.

Jenkins urges continued diligence in wearing masks, maintaining six-foot distance from others, washing your hands, avoiding crowds, and foregoing get-togethers.

"January and February are slated to be our highest months of COVID infection rate," Jenkins says. "If we don’t do all that we can now to renew our efforts to control spread, the new variant will cause an overrun of our hospitals and lengthen the time before we can beat COVID and return to our pre-COVID activities."

"We are vaccinating tens of thousands of people a week now at the Parkland, UTSW, and DCHHS mega-sites but it will be at least a couple of months before that begins to show any benefit in shrinking our number of infections," he says.