It was only a matter of time. Thursday, Jan. 7, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that CT public health officials confirmed the first two cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 were detected in the state. This is the same variant initially discovered in the United Kingdom.
The two individuals are between the ages of 15 and 25 and both reside in New Haven County. Both individuals recently traveled outside Connecticut – one to Ireland and the other to New York State – and both developed symptoms within 3-4 days of their return. Genetic sequencing of the virus has confirmed that the two cases are unrelated. The individuals’ specimens were collected earlier this month and subsequently tested positive.
To determine if the U.K. variant is present in CT, the State Public Health Laboratory (SPHL) started an enhanced surveillance testing strategy last week. The SPHL is working with Yale and Jackson Laboratories to conduct genomic sequencing on portions of COVID-19 positive specimens submitted to the SPHL by clinical diagnostic laboratories in the state. The genomic sequencing of the individuals’ samples was conducted by Yale, and the SPHL was notified when the UK variant was discovered.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has notified the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the cases.
Both persons were interviewed by contact tracers soon after they were diagnosed and their close contacts were identified at that time. They are in the process of being re-interviewed by public health officials in light of the identification of the UK variant as the cause of their illnesses. One individual has completed their self-isolation period, and the other is self-isolating at their home and will remain there until they are 10 days past the onset of symptoms and they are symptom-free.
“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 on Thursday. “This 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 U.K. variant is widely assumed to be more highly transmissible than other strains of the virus,” CT Department of Public Health Acting Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said. “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.”
“Yale University has developed robust testing capability in collaboration with Yale-New Haven Health System,” Yale School of Medicine Dean Nancy Brown said. “As a research institution with innovative scientists, we have been able to adapt quickly our testing procedures in response to emerging public health threats. I am grateful that our clinical and research laboratories were able to collaborate to provide sequencing data for the CT DPH to help detect the new SARS-CoV-2 variant.”
The U.K. variant of SARS-CoV-2 (B.1.1.7) is widely assumed to be associated with increased transmission and it is associated with a steep rise in COVID-19 cases in the U.K. It is not, however, assumed to be more deadly, nor is it expected that it will have a significant impact on vaccine effectiveness. Personal protective measures, such as mask-wearing and distancing in public, will still limit the spread of the variant.
The variant has so far been detected in 27 countries and five other U.S. states. These include Ireland and New York, where the two individuals recently traveled.