RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported on Jan. 23 the first identification in a North Carolina resident of the COVID-19 variant called B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the United Kingdom in December.

The B.1.1.7 variant was identified in a sample from an adult in Mecklenburg County processed by Mako Medical Laboratories, according to a press release. To protect the privacy of the individual, NCDHHS stated that no further information would be released.

Early data suggests that this variant may be more contagious than other variants. Current COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be effective against the new variant.

“While expected, identification of this COVID-19 variant in North Carolina is concerning, especially at the same time as we are already seeing very high numbers of cases,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, MD. “It is more important than ever to practice the three Ws.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the United States has 293 cases of the new variant as of Jan. 25. Florida has the most cases of the new variant with 92.

AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene said the identification of this new variant should remind people to keep doing the prevention efforts.

“The prevention efforts we have been like practicing the 3Ws — wearing a face mask, washing your hands and waiting six feet from others — along with getting more people vaccinated will be how we slow the spread of COVID-19, including this new variant,” Greene said in a statement. “This is why we are hopeful that vaccine supplies will increase so we can continue protecting more people. We are at a critical point in our response efforts and with this new variant that is believed to be more contagious, we urge everyone to take precautions so we can lessen the spread, protect our hospital capacity and save lives.”

At a Jan. 6 press conference, Gov. Roy Cooper warned people about the new variant that had been detected in the U.S.

“We need to act as if it’s already here in North Carolina,” Cooper said at the press conference. “This should inspire every one of us to double down on safety precautions.”

State health officials advise people to stay home except for essential activities and avoid gathering, especially indoors, with people who do not live with them.

If community members absolutely must travel or be with people that do not live with them, they are urged to get tested in advance, keep it small and outdoors and always wear a mask.

North Carolina’s Modified Stay at Home Order is in effect. This order requires people to stay at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Businesses including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, personal care businesses, most retail stores and more, are required to close by 10 p.m. In addition, all onsite alcohol consumption sales must end by 9 p.m.

A safe and effective vaccine is now available for health care workers, long-term care residents and staff and adults older than 65. Supplies are very limited, and people may have to wait, NCDHHS stated.

More information can be found at yourspotyourshot.nc.gov.

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