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Maine Detects First Case Of Highly Contagious UK Coronavirus Variant

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ROBERT F. BUKATY
/
Associated Press

The first case of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom has now been been detected in Maine, in a person from Franklin County who had recently traveled abroad, the state announced on Wednesday afternoon.

After that person developed symptoms of COVID-19 in early February, they tested positive for the disease and a viral sample was sent to an independent laboratory that confirmed it was the U.K. variant, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

That person and other members of their household who tested positive for the coronavirus are now isolating in their home. The Maine CDC is working to identify their recent contacts and advise those people to quarantine. 

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first detected in England last fall. It has spready quickly across the U.S. in recent weeks, with more than 900 cases now detected in at least 35 states.  

Studies have suggested the new variant increases transmissibility by about 50%, and scientists are warning that it could fuel another surge of the coronavirus in the U.S. 

Given the prevalence of B.1.1.7, Maine has been "on the look out for it" and working with independent groups such as the Jackson Laboratory to test for it, according to Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah. For now, he said, research suggests that the coronavirus vaccines being distributed across the country provide protection against it. 

But Shah cautioned that it "is more important than ever that Maine people remain vigilant in taking the steps that prevent the spread of COVID-19 – wearing face coverings, staying at least 6 feet apart, avoiding gatherings, and washing hands frequently.”

The announcement came as the Maine CDC added 253 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Two more people with the disease have died.

The state recently crossed a vaccination milestone — close to 210,000 doses of vaccine have now been administered in the state. Vaccination numbers continue to climb even as the state’s largest medical system, MaineHealth, has drawn scrutiny for administering the shots to non-patient-facing employees and out-of-state contractors before ensuring those doses went to Mainers over 70 years old.

The Maine CDC’s regularly scheduled briefing is expected to take place at 2 p.m. Thursday. Maine Public will bring that to you live, online.

This story was originally published at 11:09 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021.