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MADISON – The ​Wisconsin Department of Health Services​ (DHS) announced Tuesday that the second case of a fast-spreading ​COVID-19 virus strain​ had been confirmed in the state.

This variant — referred to as B.1.1.7 — circulated widely in England during November and December of last year. The first case of this ​COVID-19 virus strain​ in Wisconsin was detected on January 12, 2021. The DHS and its laboratory partners identified a second case of the variant within the state last week. The agency did not indicate where they found the virus.

Researchers believe that this new strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of the COVID-19 virus based on epidemiologic and modeling studies. There is some evidence emerging that the new strain may cause an increased risk of death.

“It is concerning that we have identified a second case of a variant that spreads more easily. We are able to sequence a small proportion of tests collected, which means, in reality, there are likely many more cases of this variant in Wisconsin,” Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the Chief Medical Officer in the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said in a news release. “Wisconsinites must continue to be vigilant to stop the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, staying home, washing their hands, and getting vaccinated when they are able.”

In Wisconsin, both cases of B.1.1.7 were identified through ongoing surveillance and whole-genome sequencing, a routine practice since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. All viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, change through mutation, and new variants of the virus are expected to occur over time.

Now in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, molecular surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 will increase in importance to quickly identify and understand new variants. DHS and laboratory partners continue to analyze genetic sequence data to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Public Urged to Follow Best Practices

Public Urged to Follow Best Practices With emerging mutations of SARS-CoV-2, it is critically important to follow best public health practices, including wearing a mask, staying home, maintaining physical distance, washing hands frequently, and getting vaccinated when you are eligible, the DHS stated.

“All viruses evolve and develop new genetic mutations as they replicate, and sometimes the new mutations can make them more dangerous. Fortunately, we can prevent the virus from replicating and mutating – we can do this by consistently using all the tools we have for stopping the spread,” said Dr. Westergaard.

Racine County Statistics

On Monday, Racine County reported a cumulative total of 18,550 confirmed COVID-19 cases -up 197 cases from the previous week. Of those newest confirmed cases, 79 were from within the City of Racine Health Department jurisdiction, and 118 were from within the Central Racine County Health Department (CRCHD) jurisdiction. Racine County remains in the “high risk”category, based on the number of new confirmed cases.

There have been 6,055 deaths statewide, including 302 deaths in Racine County, attributed to the COVID-19 virus since early 2020.CRCHD reported receiving just 30 percent of its requested COVID-19 vaccine allocation this week, meaning that vaccination appointments will be minimal.

Officials with the City of RacinePublic Health Department said that vaccine allocations “continue to be minimal.”As of Monday, health departments, hospitals, doctors and pharmacies have administered19,488 COVID-19 vaccinations in Racine County. That’s about 10 percent of the population.Frontline health care workers, EMS, fire and police personnel, and residents ages 65+ are currently eligible for vaccinations. Residents are asked NOT to call doctors or hospitals to attempt to schedule appointments.

Vaccine information updates from CRCHD. Vaccine information updates from City of Racine Public Health Department can be found here.