Variants of COVID-19 have been confirmed for the first time in four patients in Washington, D.C., the District’s health director announced Thursday.
Variants first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa were detected, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told D.C. officials, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said at a news conference.
The variant first found in the United Kingdom was found in three patients; the variant first found in South Africa was found in one person. Information was not immediately released on whether the D.C. patients had recently traveled or were hospitalized.
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The cases were detected based on sampling by the CDC and research is ongoing, Nesbitt said. Health officials suspect there are more variant cases in the District than have been confirmed yet.
“This is not surprising to D.C. Health but just another reminder to be cautious of our behavior,” she said.
COVID-19 variants were found in patients in Maryland and Virginia in recent weeks.
Early analysis shows the variants may be much more transmissible but not cause more severe illness or an increased risk of death.
In some good news, officials said the District will receive 50% more vaccine doses in the coming weeks and that 70% of senior citizens are expected to be vaccinated by March 1.
People who work in D.C. grocery stores, large chain stores and independent stores will be eligible to be vaccinated soon.
The number of people vaccinated is climbing, and cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all fallen.
Declining COVID-19 case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations in D.C. are a promising sign but residents should remain vigilant, Nesbitt said.
“It gives us some optimism but reminds us to be cautious until we have a full appreciation of whether those variants could cause a rebound,” she said.
Nesbitt initially cited two, not four, variant cases.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.