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Coronavirus variants not seen widely but some carry extra punches

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Countywide COVID-19 cases are at their lowest point since last fall. But while the chance to celebrate the end of the pandemic is near, state and local health officials emphasize we’re not there
yet with approximately 3 in 10 residents currently not vaccinated.
Among hospitalizations for COVID-19, it is unvaccinated people who are predominantly being seen nowadays, state health officials said last week.
It’s “conceivable” the June 30 reopening could allow a new wave of cases if unvaccinated people don’t take precaution, Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said last week. These include continuing to mask up and to socially distance.
Transmission is also being seen among unvaccinated people, plus rare vaccine breakthrough cases, he said.
Lurking are variants of the coronavirus that have mutations from the original, such as the Delta variant that originated in India and the Gamma variant that originated in Brazil.
The UK variant, formally the Alpha variant, is the most common variant seen in the U.S.
These COVID-19 mutations have so far have caused comparably small case loads in porportion to the common strain of coronavirus. However, many of the closest-watched variants carry extra punches, such as being able to spread easier. At least one, the Gamma variant, may be more resistent to current COVID-19 vaccines. Health officials don’t want the variants to get a leg up.
Spitters said regarding variants that “we haven’t yet seen these play out in the communities.”
However, “the velocity of those variants are expanding and combined with an ... incomplete vaccination effort, we really need to rely on
unvaccinated people to, one, get vaccinated, and two, mask up and maintain social distancing until they are vaccinated,” Spitters said.
The UK variant was first documented in Snohomish County in January, and there have been 946 such UK-variant cases in the county, the most recent available state health data shows.
The Gamma variant first appeared in Washington state in February.
The UK variant is highly infectious and caused “more severe symptoms and increased risk of death” for those infected, state Department of Health (DOH) epidemiologists wrote. Meanwhile, early studies suggest the Gamma variant “contains mutations that make it less likely to respond to antibody treatments,” DOH epidemiologists wrote.
In Washington, nearly half of variant-specific cases were the UK variant from late May to early June, state DOH data shows. The Gamma variant represented almost 20 percent of recent variant cases within Washington state. The Delta variant and the South African (Beta) variant had much less infection activity.
As of June 20, over two-thirds of all county residents age 16 or older have had a first vaccine shot. The rate of COVID-19 infection in Snohomish County is down to 69 new cases per 100,000 population.

COVID-19 testing sites
It’s being done at the Longfellow Building parking lot at 3715 Oakes Ave., Everett (next to Veterans Memorial Stadium off of Broadway) and the Lynnwood Food Bank. Appointments are preferred, but drive-ups are being allowed. For times and dates, see




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