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UK COVID-19 variant detected in University of Washington student

The more contagious strain of the coronavirus, first identified in the United Kingdom, is expected to become dominant in the U.S. by the spring.

SEATTLE — The more contagious variant of coronavirus, first detected in the United Kingdom, has been identified in a University of Washington (UW) student. 

Genetic sequencing of samples from the Husky Coronavirus Testing program detected the B.1.1.7, or UK variant, of COVID-19 in a Seattle campus student's test from late January, according to a letter sent to the UW community Tuesday. 

UW officials said the student is doing well and out of their isolation period. The student had a small number of close contacts, and those people have been notified, officials said. 

The UK variant of the virus is 30%-50% more contagious than the current coronavirus variant most prevalent in western Washington, according to Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb, an infectious disease expert with the UW. 

"This means it takes less exposure to the virus to infect you," said Gottlieb in UW's letter on the variant Tuesday. "It also means that a small number of cases in a community can more quickly turn into another wave of infections and the reinstatement of health restrictions."

Gottlieb said while it's not unexpected that the new variant has been detected, it is a reminder for people to continue practicing mask-wearing, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings, as well as regular hand washing. 

The UK variant was first detected in western Washington in late January, with cases identified in Snohomish, Pierce, and King counties so far. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expect the UK variant to become dominant in the U.S. by the spring.

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