Arriving passengers walk past a sign in the arrivals area at Heathrow Airport in London, during England’s third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. On Tuesday, City and Borough of Juneau officials said the city has confirmed the first local case of a COVID-19 variant first detected in Britain. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Arriving passengers walk past a sign in the arrivals area at Heathrow Airport in London, during England’s third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. On Tuesday, City and Borough of Juneau officials said the city has confirmed the first local case of a COVID-19 variant first detected in Britain. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

State lab ID’s British COVID variant in Juneau resident

Public health officials say variant acquired via community spread

For the first time, a COVID-19 variant has been identified in a Juneau resident.

City and Borough of Juneau officials said that the variant called UKB117, the variant first detected in Britain, was identified in a sample collected from a Juneau resident on March 7.

The state lab identified the variant sometime between April 4 and 10 as part of a routine process that scans for variants. State officials shared the news with the city this week. Juneau officials reported the finding at the Tuesday COVID-19 community update call.

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Mila Cosgrove, deputy city manager and the COVID-19 emergency operations center incident commander, called the finding “concerning.” But, she pointed to the city’s rising vaccination rate and generally low disease level as positive factors in the community’s overall COVID profile.

The state lab conducts sequencing for variants on all tests conducted at the airport and a subset of all positive tests. The testing machine at Bartlett Regional Hospital is not equipped to conduct variant testing.

“It really is only a matter of time before variants get a stronger foothold in Juneau,” Cosgrove said. “It’s yet another really good reason to get vaccinated and create a less welcoming environment for anything that comes along. I think it’s safe to assume that variants are present, and we should safeguard against them. ”

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Cosgrove said that local public health officials told the city that the person infected with the variant acquired the infection via community spread. But it was unclear if the person had traveled within the state before the illness.

Public health also said the case was identified quickly and that there was a high likelihood of compliance with quarantine rules during the infectious period.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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