The Georgia Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday the state’s first case of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, a highly contagious variant of the virus which has been found in the U.K. as well as several other U.S. states.
The variant was discovered during analysis of a specimen sent by a pharmacy in Georgia to a commercial lab, according to a DPH press release.
The 18-year-old Metro Atlanta man had no travel history, and is currently in isolation at home.
Georgia public health officials have stated they’re working to identify close contacts of the individual and will monitor them closely and test them for the variant.
Preliminary epidemiologic information suggests that this variant is significantly more contagious than the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a press release stated. However, there is no evidence that the variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.
“The emergence of this variant in our state should be a wake-up call for all Georgians,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey. “Even as we begin roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine, we must not let down our guard and ignore basic prevention measures — wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands frequently.”
The news comes as the state and much of Northwest Georgia are in the midst of a surge of the virus.
Floyd County alone has reported 773 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. That’s nearly double the number seen during last summer’s surge. On average that’s about 50 to 60 new cases reported per day.
The county’s positivity rate has also stayed very high recently — at 20%. Epidemiologists use that figure to determine whether or not enough testing has been done to determine the actual spread of the virus.
That high a percentage denotes that the spread of the virus may be much higher than testing is showing. Dr. Gary Voccio, director of the 10-county Northwest Georgia Public Health District, has said a good positivity rate is around 5%.
The number of new cases are compounded by a tightening availability of hospital beds.
In Region C, the region that contains Floyd, Gordon and Polk counties among others, over 96% of general inpatient beds are in use, according to the Georgia Geospatial Information Office. There were 159 COVID-19 positive patients being housed at Floyd County’s two hospitals — Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Medical Center — as of Tuesday.