Alaska announces first case of more contagious strain of COVID-19

Stephanie DeRonde, a state microbiologist, uses an Illumina sequencer to analyze strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 at the Fairbanks public health lab on Wednesday, November 4, 2020. (Alaska Department of Health and Social Services/screengrab)

State health officials said Tuesday that they’ve detected Alaska’s first case of a more contagious strain of COVID-19 that first was found in Britain, though they’re hopeful it’s been contained for now.

The person, who officials didn’t identify, received their positive test in Anchorage on Dec. 22, after visiting a state where the strain, known as B.1.1.7, had already been detected.

When data from the person’s positive test suggested that it could be the contagious strain, the state included it in a group of more than 300 similar specimens that were analyzed over the past three weeks. After confirming the result in a second lab, Alaska officials notified CDC of their findings Monday, the Department of Health and Social Services said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

The infected person isolated after learning of their positive result, the department said; they lived with one other person who also got sick, tested positive and successfully isolated. Both people have recovered, the department said.

“The two patients remained in isolation and stated that they did not have contact with others,” the statement quoted Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink as saying. “We are hopeful that transmission of this particular variant stopped with these two individuals, but we will very likely detect the variant strain again soon.”

State health officials have scheduled a news conference at 3 p.m.

This is a breaking news story — check back for updates.