Alpha variant of COVID-19 appears in Y-K Delta

Two lab technicians wearing protective equipment transfer vials from a box.
YKHC staff members package vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 16, 2020. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

A strain of COVID-19 which spreads faster and is more harmful has arrived in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The Alaska Department of Heath and Social Services has confirmed the presence of at least two cases of the COVID-19 Alpha variant in two villages in the region.

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation did not say when the testing was done, but the results came back positive from the state laboratory on June 3. 

The Alpha strain is also known as B.1.1.7, previously known as the UK variant before the World Health Organization began labeling new variants with Greek letters last week. WHO said that it wants to avoid stigmatizing nations where strains were first detected. Currently, the WHO has named four main variants of concern, including the Alpha variant in the Y-K Delta. 

According to YKHC, the Alpha variant is both more aggressive and contagious than the previously circulating variant. It is already the dominant strain in the U.S., and YKHC expects it to become the dominant strain in the Y-K Delta. 

YKHC said 48% of the total population in the Y-K Delta has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and that the vaccines it offers are all highly effective against the new strain.