HELENA — Montana health officials have confirmed the first known cases of a variant of the COVID-19 virus in the state.
According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), the three tests in Gallatin County showed signs of the United Kingdom, or U.K., variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley provide the following statement:
We are aware that the specimens are from Gallatin County, and we are working with the state health department to investigate the source and timing of those specimens. It should not come as a surprise that a variant strain of the virus is in Montana. Well over 40 other states have identified the virus, so it stands to reason that it is in Montana as well. This is a good reminder that this pandemic is not over and the importance of everyone doing all they can to help us slow down transmission. That means practicing physical distancing whenever possible, wearing face coverings in public settings, staying home when we’re sick, washing our hands, and getting a vaccine when one is available.
“We’re working with Gallatin County to find out a little bit more about these cases, but what we know so far is that these folks were fairly young and all of them recovered,” said Jim Murphy, administrator in the Public Health and Safety Division.
The Centers for Disease Control says the U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first identified in the fall of 2020. Montana is the 46th state to confirm the virus in the U.S.
“So not a unique thing, but at least our first ones,” noted Murphy.
The U.K. variant first showed up in the United States in December 2020. According to the CDC, this variant is believed to spread more easily and quickly than other strains of the coronavirus.
“I think the good news right now is that the UK variant has been around a little while. We know a little bit more about it,” noted Murphy. “ It doesn't look like it causes more severe illness. There is some evidence there might be slightly more contagious or transmissible, but we also have pretty good evidence the vaccine addresses this variant fairly well.”
The CDC says studies indicate currently available vaccines produce antibodies that recognize these variants and more studies are underway to investigate the level of protection provided by current vaccinations.
Visit the CDC's website for more details on COVID-19 variants.
***UPDATE 03/03/2021 5:37 p.m. : This article has been updated with additional information.***