Illinois cases of a COVID-19 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom that is believed to be more transmissible have doubled in the past seven days, according to data released Thursday by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In all, 552 cases involving the variant, known as B.1.1.7, have been found in samples of COVID-19 positive tests from Illinois since Jan. 15, officials said.
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.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday the state was working as quickly as possible to vaccinate all Illinois residents to stop the variants from spreading.
“The danger of the new variants spreading means we want every dose to get into arms as soon as humanly possible,” Pritzker said.
The spread of the U.K. variant is helping to fuel a surge in COVID-19 cases in Chicago and across Illinois, Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in an online question-and-answer session Thursday.
A total of four COVID-19 variants believed to be more transmissible have been discovered in Illinois.
Cases of the P.1 variant, which was first discovered in Brazil, jumped 181% in the past seven days to a total of 93 cases, officials said. The variant was first discovered in Illinois on March 5, according to state data.
Fifty cases of a variant known as B.1.427/B.1.429, which was first identified in July 2020 in Los Angeles County, have been identified in Illinois since March 25, according to state data.
Nine cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa, known as B.1.351, have been identified in Illinois since Feb. 11, according to state data.
More study is needed about the infectiousness and severity of the California and Brazilian variants, according to Illinois Department of Public Health officials.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, Illinois officials are urging people to wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from those who are not in their household, avoid gatherings and unnecessary travel, and wash their hands often.
Data suggests current vaccines will be effective and safe in providing protection against the South African and UK variant, officials said.