Could the new, more contagious COVID-19 variant already be in Arizona?

With confirmed cases of a new coronavirus strain in both Colorado and California, could the strain be here in Arizona?

Experts agree it's likely more widespread throughout the country.

"We've known this has probably been around for a little while just because they've detected it recently. I think they've known since September it exists. There are some mutations to the coronavirus, that's not a new thing. These viruses mutate a lot more than people realize," said Dr. Ross Goldberg.

Dr. Ross Goldberg with the Arizona Medical Association and Valleywise Health says the biggest worry is how infectious the new strain is.

"The virus's job is to just spread, right? It wants to spread as easily as it can so it will adapt to its host and find ways to make itself spread faster and that's what it's doing here. It learned a way to make it spread faster between humans."

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

That doesn't necessarily mean deadlier, but different people handle COVID in different ways.

Banner Health's Chief Clinical Officer addressed the new strain on Dec. 30

"There is still much to learn about this new strain. UK scientists have warned that it appears to be much more contagious. They've also found through studies that it is more likely to effect children," said Dr. Marjorie Bessel.

Much more research is needed, but many are still confident this won't derail vaccine progress.

"So even changing a small piece of it doesn't change the overall point of the vaccine. I know they're studying it now but we're pretty confident the vaccines will keep you safe against these new variants," Dr. Goldberg said.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

The discovery of this known strain comes down to sequencing the virus.

The United States lags way behind other countries in mapping infections out, meaning the new strain could've been here for a while.

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In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily

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Continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic:

Arizona sets hospitalization high amid surge in virus cases

The 7,718 new infections that the Department of Health Services reported brings the statewide totals to 520,207 cases and 8,864 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began.

AZDHS director explains why COVID-19 vaccine rollout appears to be slow

The state is facing criticism after only 20% of health care workers have been vaccinated so far, but now Gov. Ducey is announcing an accelerated distribution plan for Arizona.

Maricopa County Public Health extends phase 1A of COVID-19 operation

The Maricopa County Public Health Department says during the week of Dec. 20, the number of people getting their coronavirus vaccine was low, but the following week was completely different.