JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska through its surveillance program has not yet seen new variants of the coronavirus, the chief of Alaska Public Health Laboratories said.

Jayme Parker said Thursday that staff are “actively searching” through specimens as part of the surveillance. Several states have reported at least one known case of a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 that appears to spread more easily from person to person.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist, said new strains are concerning because they will translate to increased case counts.

Health officials urged Alaskans to continue to take steps, such as wearing masks and maintaining distance, and to test before and after travel.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.