A variant of the coronavirus first discovered in the United Kingdom and believed to be more transmissible is present in Chicago, city health officials announced Friday.
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was identified by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in samples of COVID-19 positive tests, according to the statement from the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The variant was confirmed this week in Indiana and Wisconsin, after being discovered in Colorado earlier this month.
Evidence suggests that this variant can spread more easily than other strains of COVID-19. However, it can be diagnosed with tests already in use and there is no evidence that it “causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” according to the CDPH.
“In addition, data suggest current vaccines will be effective and safe in providing protection against the variant,” according to the statement.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the discovery of the variant was to be expected.
“This news isn’t surprising and doesn’t change our guidance around COVID-19,” Arwady said in a statement. “We must double down on the recommended safety strategies we know help stop the spread of this virus. In order to protect Chicago, please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not have outside guests in your home, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”
An investigation by Chicago health officials found that the individual who contracted the COVID-19 variant traveled to the United Kingdom and the Middle East in the two weeks before their diagnosis. Officials identified close contacts of the individual and urged them to quarantine.
The COVID-19 virus — also known as SARS-CoV-2 — constantly changes through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time, officials said.