Health officials have warned the new variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, is more contagious.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Testing has found one person infected with COVID-19 in Washington County appears to have acquired a mutated strain of the virus first detected in the United Kingdom last fall.A Washington County resident was identified as the third Oregonian to test positive for a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in the United Kingdom in September.

The Oregon Health Authority said Sunday, Jan. 24, it was notified of the positive test.

The person had a known travel history outside the United States during their exposure period, the OHA said without specifying where the person had traveled.

Close contacts of the person have been identified and notified, the OHA said.

Scientists have identified thousands of COVID-19 variants, but several, including the B.1.1.7 variant now present in Oregon, have raised concerns about their potential to reduce vaccine efficacy, spread more quickly and cause more severe health impacts.

Oregon's first case of COVID-19 was detected in a Washington County resident in February 2020.

Vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have said their vaccines should be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant.

About 300 cases of the variant have been detected nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two Oregonians who previously tested positive for the variant, a University of Portland staff member and a Yamhill County resident, didn't have a known travel history outside the country.

Public health officials say the emergence of the new variant of COVID-19 in Oregon is a reminder of the need to practice preventative safety measures.

"This may be the (third) case detected, but it is likely the variant is already circulating much more widely throughout our county and the state," said Mary Sawyers, spokesperson for Washington County Public Health. "This means people should assume that they may come in contact with a much more contagious variant of COVID-19 and they need to continue to wear masks, socially distance and wash hands."

Sawyers said declining case counts in the county and statewide are likely a result of such safety measures, adding "we don't want (cases) to start rising again."

The number of cases reported in Washington County last week was nearly half the previous week, county data show.

After cases spiked statewide following the holidays, they have declined in recent weeks, and health officials hope increases in the number of vaccines administered can continue the trend.

It took only two months for the B.1.1.7 variant to become the dominant COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom after it was first detected.

On Monday, Jan. 25, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., said the variant could become the dominant variant in the country by March.

Officials in the United Kingdom have suggested that the variant may be more deadly than the earlier dominant variant, but CDC officials have not said whether the variant causes more severe illness.

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