The Hopkins County Health Department reported Tuesday that the B.1.1.7 variant — also known as the U.K. variant — has been detected in Hopkins County.

Health Department Director Denise Beach said she wanted people to be aware of the new variant so they could be prepared.

“We don’t like to see extra strains coming in,” she said.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.K. variant arrived in the United States in December 2020. JHU defines a variant as a change or mutation to the virus’s genes.

Beach said the CDC and the Kentucky Department of Health are closely monitoring the variants to see how the mutations alter the characteristics and cause the virus to act differently.

“What they are trying to see is do they cause more severe disease, do they spread more easily, do they require different treatments and do they change the effectiveness of the current vaccines,” she said.

The U.K. variant was detected in southeastern England in September 2020 and became the most common version of the coronavirus by December, accounting for about 60% of new COVID-19 cases, according to JHU.

Beach said hospital and health care personnel are treating patients diagnosed with the variant like the other COVID-19 patients.

She said the only way to fight the variant is to continue wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from other people, having good hand hygiene and getting the vaccine. Right now, people who have been vaccinated are immune to the COVID-19 variants, but if more people do not get vaccinated then the variants could mutate so the vaccine no longer works, said Beach.

“We need to get herd immunity to stop the spread and get the variants out of our area before we have a chance for it to change and cause more problems,” she said.

To reach herd immunity, at least 70% of the population has to be vaccinated. Beach said Hopkins County is close to 40%, and Kentucky is considered to be at 40%.

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