Officials in Oregon have reported the first case of a coronavirus variant originally detected in Brazil, marking the first such instance on the West Coast. In a press release issued Tuesday, Douglas County health officials said the P.1 variant was confirmed in a sample sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and "appears to be related to business travel outside the United States to and from Brazil."
The sample was sent to the CDC at the end of January, although no additional information about the patient or contact tracing was included in the release.
"This case marks the first case of the P.1 variant in Oregon, as well as the first case on the West coast," the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team said, in the news release. "There have only been 10 other cases of the P.1 variant reported in the United States, in Minnesota (2), Florida (5), Oklahoma (1), Alaska (1), and Maryland (1)."
The news comes as the nation’s top health experts sound the alarm over emerging variants and the potential for more spread. Studies about what impact, if any, the variants may have on currently approved vaccines are ongoing. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, has warned that that the variants could pose a threat to the recent ground the country has gained against the disease.
In a press briefing held last week, she noted that the U.K. variant, identified as B.1.1.7, which is more transmissible than the wild strain first detected in the U.S., now accounts for up to 10% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Just a few weeks ago the percentage was around 1-4.
Walensky said that the U.S. "may now be seeing the beginning effects" the variants may be having on spread. Days later, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said that officials were going to "keep an eye" on another variant detected in New York, that potentially emerged in an individual with HIV.
Both have repeatedly called on the public to double down on public health measures such as wearing masks and keeping distant, but several areas, including Texas, have started to relax such restrictions.
Gov. Abbott on Tuesday rescinded Texas’ mask mandate, a move met with mixed reactions.
"Despite the impending removal of the state mask mandate, we must continue our vigilance with masking, distancing, and handwashing," Dr. Mark Escott, Travis County Interim Health Authority, said, according to Texas Tribune. "These remain critical in our ongoing fight against COVID-19."
The CDC is expected to issue guidance as early as Thursday that would address which activities Americans can do once fully vaccinated. The list is expected to include small indoor gatherings with other vaccinated individuals.
On Tuesday, President Biden said the recent emergency use authorization granted to Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine and scaled up productions means that every American adult who wants a vaccine should be able to get one by May.