Officials: New, More Transmissible COVID Variant In Dallas County

It was only a matter of time, but Dallas County health officials said Saturday that the county has its first case of the new, more transmissible strain of the virus that causes COVID-19.

This comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by Harris County that it had diagnosed its first case of the variant – an individual with no travel history.

“The fact that this person had no travel history suggests this variant is already circulating in Texas,” Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner, said of the Harris County case. “Genetic variations are the norm among viruses, and it’s not surprising that it arrived here given how rapidly it spreads.”

With the Dallas County case, there are now three known cases of the new strain, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom.

The county said that the local case is a Dallas man in his 20s, with no recent history of travel outside the U.S. He is stable and in isolation, and contact tracing has begun.

“The emergence of strain B.1.1.7, while inevitable given the mobility of the modern world and the fact that we are a major transportation hub, means that there is a strain that is 70% more contagious in our community and it will grow quickly,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “It’s more important than ever to wear your mask around anyone you don’t live with, to maintain six foot distance from other masked individuals, wash your hands frequently, think of ways to avoid crowds by using tools like online shopping, curbside or delivery and outdoor exercise, and forgo get-togethers.”

“January and February are slated to be our highest months of COVID infection rate,” he added.

The strain was identified last September and appears, experts said, to be more contagious than the original strain, spreading much more quickly, but appears to not be any more harmful than the original, and currently approved vaccines are expected to be effective against it, the CDC said Friday.

What is troubling about the variant is that it’s increased risk of transmission will further tax already overburdened healthcare systems.

The CDC warned in Friday’s report that without stricter adherence to protocols like masking, social distancing, and avoiding gathering with people that you don’t live with, the new strain will quickly become the dominant one in the country.

“Increased SARS-CoV-2 transmission might threaten strained health-care resources, require extended and more rigorous implementation of public-health strategies, and increase the percentage of population immunity required for pandemic control,” the CDC said.

“This is now the third identified case in Texas and we can assume there are more cases in our community due to the nature of this variant and how quickly it spreads,” Dallas County Health and Human Services director Dr. Philip Huang said. “We must remain vigilant in our fight against this virus and continue all preventative and protective measures such as wearing our mask, washing our hands, and physical distancing.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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