A new variant of the coronavirus emerged in Maryland for the first time this week after being detected in other states across the country.
An Anne Arundel County couple are quarantining at their house after one of them traveled to “multiple continents,” Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday at a State House news conference in Annapolis.
“The state public health laboratory has confirmed the first two cases of the U.K. variant in the state of Maryland,” he said.
The new variant is more contagious, said Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner and a professor of public health at George Washington University, and she urged Marylanders to continue to keep their guard up.
Here’s what you need to know:
How did the new variant get to Maryland?
The new variant was first detected in the United Kingdom. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told Hogan he was “sure” the variant is present in every state across the country, even in places where it’s yet to be detected.
Hogan said the person traveled to “multiple continents” before returning home and falling ill. The couple’s two children are quarantining with their parents, the Republican governor said.
The state is doing contact tracing to try to determine whom they may have been in contact with, Hogan said.
Hogan said the variant was first detected in the Maryland couple by a private laboratory, then was confirmed by a state lab and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Why is there a new variant of coronavirus?
Viruses naturally mutate, Wen said, so it’s not surprising a new type of coronavirus has appeared.
It’s something scientists, doctors and public health officials have been anticipating for months.
What is the difference with the new variant?
It’s much more transmittable than the original variant of COVID-19, which raises the likelihood of more people getting infected, hospitalizations rising and the death toll increasing, Wen said.
“It is a matter of time before that strain could become the dominant one in the U.S.,” Wen said.
And though it spreads the same way as the other variants do, Wen said, the mutations in this specific strand make it easier for them to bind to cells so more virus can enter.
Does this mean the vaccine won’t work?
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While there are more studies going on, Wen said there is nothing that has led doctors and researchers to believe that the vaccine won’t work against the different variants.
Are there any more precautions people should be taking?
Wen said people should just continue to keep their guards up and take the same precautions as before.
She also warned that activities people may have perceived as “low risk” before are now higher risk.
People should wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid indoor gatherings with anyone not in their immediate household, Wen said.
“So much of the transmission we are seeing is because people are letting down their guards,” Wen said.
If I already had COVID-19, will I get this variant of the virus?
According to Wen, reinfection is rare, though not impossible.
A previous version of this article included incorrect information about the infected couple. One person traveled abroad. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.