Officials confirm Juneau’s first more contagious COVID variant case

a scientist as seen through lab shelves
Ralph Dagdag, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, is part of a team of scientists led by professor Eric Bortz, studying COVID-19 variants. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Genomic sequencing has confirmed the first positive case of COVID-19 in Juneau caused by a more contagious variant of the virus.

Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said the Juneau case was caused by the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the United Kingdom. It was identified in someone who tested positive on March 7.

“We do know there’s a variant in town. We knew it was just a matter of time. We don’t know how many positives that we are experiencing now are related to that variant,” Cosgrove said during a weekly community update on Tuesday.

Cosgrove said the variant was noted in a recent report from state labs that are sequencing samples from around the state in batches. She said the person who had it was taking quarantine precautions seriously, but, “I think it’s just safe to assume that variants are present and that we should continue to safeguard against them. I think that’s really the safest thing that we could be doing right now as a community.”

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the B.1.1.7 variant had become the most prevalent strain in the country. Besides being more transmissible, it’s also of greater concern because it may lead to more severe cases of COVID-19, though there isn’t yet scientific consensus on that.

Cosgrove said its arrival is all the more reason to get vaccinated and continue other preventative measures, such as masking and social distancing.

Vaccine appointments are available through local health care providers, pharmacies and city clinics at Centennial Hall. Officials estimate nearly four out of 10 Juneau residents have been fully vaccinated.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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