NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As the coronavirus continues spreading across the country, scientists are keeping a close eye on a new variant of the virus that some worry may be more contagious. On Wednesday, the New Mexico Department of Health announced the first case of the B117 coronavirus variant has been identified in New Mexico.

In an interview with KRQE News 13 on Tuesday, before the first COVID-19 variant case was announced in New Mexico, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said, “{It’s} normal for viruses to mutate, totally expected that. I’ve seen dozens of different strains since the beginning of the pandemic and just too early to say whether there’s a threat to the folks of New Mexico.”

A new COVID-19 variant called B117 first emerged in the UK in September. It’s since spread to parts of the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Japan, Sweden, and London, and just appeared in New Mexico. “We’re doing surveillance testing on positive tests, 200 a week, to do the genomic sequencing to identify new strains,” explained Dr. Scrase. “But we’ve been doing that since the beginning of the pandemic, so we’re just continuing.”

The Department of Health announced Wednesday that a man in his 60s has the B117 coronavirus variant and that he traveled to the UK in December. According to the Centers for Disease Control, scientists are quickly studying whether any COVID-mutations could spread more easily, or potentially change the effectiveness of a vaccine.

The CDC notes there is no evidence of this occurring, and it’s unlikely, due to the nature of immune response to the virus. Before the first case was confirmed in New Mexico, Dr. Scrase told KRQE News 13, “We think that we will find it when it finally appears here, but we don’t know what that effect is likely to be.”

It’s yet another reason why health officials are pushing for widespread COVID-19 vaccinations. “We need to vaccinate about 1.3 to 1.4 million people, so that’s a huge contribution,” Dr. Scrase explained.

The Department of Health said on Wednesday that the New Mexico man is recovering from “very mild illness,” and does not require hospitalization. No close contacts have been identified in New Mexico. According to the CDC, so far there are more than 70 confirmed COVID-19 cases found in 11 states across the U.S. that are caused by the new variant.

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