UK variant of COVID detected in Gallatin County

A still picture of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 (Photo by PXhere, used by Creative Commons license).

Three cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant have been identified in Gallatin County, the Department of Public Health and Human Services said in a statement Wednesday.

DPHHS spokesman, Jon Ebelt, said the state was expecting the variant.

“We have been preparing for this, conducting surveillance for COVID-19 variant strains for several weeks, so this comes as no surprise,” Ebelt said.

All three individuals that contracted the strain have recovered, Ebelt said.

“All Montanans are encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to you. And, continue to wear a mask to protect yourself and others, practice social distancing by staying six feet apart, stay home if you are sick, cover your cough, wash your hands often, and avoid large crowds,” he said.

Montana is the most recent of 46 states where the variant has been found. At a Wednesday press conference, Gov. Greg Gianforte said no variants had been detected in the state but added that Montana State University had “expressed concern” about the possibility of a couple of variants, which were sent on for further verification. It is unclear if the variants detected in Gallatin are the same variants MSU raised the alarm about.

“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,” Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley said in a press release. “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.”

The variant first showed up in the United States at the end of December and “may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variants” but more studies are needed to confirm if that is true, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

At his Tuesday press conference, Gianforte praised the state’s vaccine response and announced that he was expanding Phase 1B to include Montanans over the age of 60 and expanded the list of qualifying underlying conditions for those aged 16-59. The expanded phase — Phase 1B+ — will start Monday.

As of Wednesday, 269,222 Montanans had received their first dose of the vaccine and 94,766 were full vaccinated, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. There were 202 new cases detected and the state’s death toll from the virus stands at 1,373.