The first case of a new variant of COVID-19 has now been identified in Chicago, according to public health officials.
The new strain garnered international attention for how quickly it spread when it was first identified in the United Kingdom. It arrived in the U.S. about two weeks ago. Research is still underway, but evidence suggests that the strain can spread more quickly than the COVID-19 strains currently circulating.
Preliminary data also suggest current vaccines will be effective and safe in protecting against the variant. The news comes as areas of the state start to move into vaccinating the next round of priority populations.
Chicago health officials said the new strain was discovered in a person who had traveled to the U.K. and the Middle East two weeks prior to their diagnosis. The Chicago Department of Public Health said it identified and contacted those close to the individual to “reinforce the importance of adherence with quarantine.”
In a press release, Chicago officials called the news “unsurprising.”
“This news … doesn’t change our guidance around COVID-19. We must double down on the recommended safety strategies we know help stop the spread of this virus,” said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. “In order to protect Chicago, please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not have outside guests in your home and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”
Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike reiterated that the new strain doesn’t change current safety measures, saying unless we continue to mask and social distance, “this new variant could sweep across the state. That would lead us back to a place we don’t want to go.”
On the same day officials announced they had identified the new strain, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced he was loosening restrictions in three Illinois regions.
Regions 1, 2 in northeast Illinois and 5 in southern Illinois will move to the state’s ‘Tier 2’ category, which allows them to have higher capacity in retail stores and resume group fitness classes, reopen cultural institutions and more.
The story has been corrected to clarify what the Tier 2 designation includes.
Mariah Woelfel is a general assignment reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.