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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Contact:
Meredith Mathis, Public Information Specialist – Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, 360-628-7148, meredith.mathis@co.thurston.wa.us 

First SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern Detected in Thurston County
B.1.351 variant detected in two residents

OLYMPIA – On Friday, March 19, 2021 Washington State Department of Health (DOH) notified Thurston County Public Health and Social Services (PHSS) of two cases of the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in Thurston County. A private laboratory in Washington State confirmed the B.1.351 variant Friday. The laboratory, which is contracted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is conducting SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing as part of a statewide and nationwide effort to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.

Both residents carrying the variant of concern initially tested positive for COVID-19 on February 22, 2021. Laboratory genome sequencing can take three to four weeks to complete before results are confirmed.

The University of Washington Virology Lab identified first case of the B.1.351 variant in Washington State on January 29, 2021 in King County. To date, laboratories in Washington State have confirmed 10 total cases of the B.1.351 variant in King, Yakima, and Thurston Counties. At this time, state and local health officials are unsure if these Thurston County cases are linked to others in Washington, to out of state travel, or if this strain is circulating further in the community. 

The B.1.351 variant was first identified in South Africa as early as October and 194 strains of this mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have now been found in the United States. This variant is a concern because it may be more transmissible, and some treatments and vaccines may be less effective against it. Currently, there is no data to suggest it has impact on disease severity, however, more research is being done.

Schelli Slaughter, Director of Thurston County Public Health, stated “While we are very encouraged our cases have been low and trending down over the last month, knowing a variant of concern, such as B.1.351, being detected in Thurston County is a stark reminder that this pandemic isn’t over yet and we shouldn’t let our guard down too soon. As we enter Phase 3, there are more opportunities to transmit the virus from one person to another. Everyone should be extra vigilant right now by continuing to follow guidance, wear masks, wash hands, physically distance, and gather responsibly.” 

Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek recommends all Thurston County residents receive any of the available vaccines when they are eligible. “Data shows the currently available vaccines do provide protection against severe illness and death if a person was to become infected with COVID-19 from a SARS-CoV-2 variant,” she said. 

Because COVID-19 variants may spread more easily, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) recommends people continue follow these guidelines:
  • Wear a well-made, well-fitting face mask, even with people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles.
  • Keep gatherings outside whenever possible.
  • Avoid any social gatherings indoors, but if participating, wear a mask and ensure windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation.
  • Wear a mask while in the car with other people, including with family who do not live in your household.
  • Wash your hands often, don’t touch your face, and carry hand sanitizer for use when water and soap are not available.
  • Stay home if you are sick or if you have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were exposed to someone who tested positive.
  • Sign up for Washington Exposure Notifications (also known as WA Notify). WA Notify is a free tool that alerts smartphone users if they have been exposed to COVID-19. The program does not share personal information or track where you go.
You can find more information about the B.1.351 variant and other strains of the SARS-CoV2 virus on the DOH website.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine in Thurston County please utilize the DOH vaccine locator tool. People who need assistance scheduling a vaccine appointment may call the PHSS vaccine helpline at 360-628-7148.

If you would like to help with the vaccination effort in Thurston County, please contact United Way for opportunities to volunteer. 

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County Commissioners:

Carolina Mejia
District 1

Gary Edwards
District 2

Tye Menser
District 3