ANHCORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A highly transmissible coronavirus variant originally traced to Brazil has been discovered in Alaska.
The variant was found in a specimen of an Anchorage resident who developed COVID-19 symptoms, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The person had no known travel history.
It’s the sixth case of the variant found in five U.S. states, officials said.
Dr. Joe McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the state health department, said there is evidence to suggest the P.1 variant is more transmissible than the original virus and that its mutations also “appear to change the antigenic profile of the virus.”
That means it can potentially be contracted by someone who was already infected or who has been vaccinated.
It’s also troublesome that the person in the Alaska case has no known travel history.
“That does make it more concerning,” he told the newspaper. “So we are trying to do a thorough epidemiological investigation to figure out where the person actually got infected from.”
The person ate at an Anchorage restaurant with at least one other person in late January and didn’t wear a mask. The infected person developed symptoms four days later and tested positive on Feb. 8
There is at least one person who had close contact with the infected person.
The state has had two cases of people with the coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
“COVID is still circulating,” McLaughlin said, adding that more variant cases will likely be detected even as cases overall continue to decline.
“We really want people to continue following all the mitigation strategies,” McLaughlin said. “There’s a reasonably high probability that the infection may have incurred while the person was eating at a restaurant with another person, so we just want to make sure people continue to stay within their social bubbles.”
Alaska reported 58 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 55,560. The state has reported 287 deaths.
Alaska has administered 232,811 doses of vaccine. Of those, 89,147 have been second doses. Alaska’s total population is about 731,000.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.