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New variant strain of coronavirus confirmed in Metro Atlanta, anticipated to 'spread quickly'

Health officials say despite unknowns, vaccines are effective against coronavirus mutations

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia public health officials expect a new variant strain of the novel coronavirus to spread quickly. Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said the mutation had the ability to spread even more quickly than the more dominant strain that has ravaged the country and the world.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked 144 cases of the mutated virus nationwide, including five cases in Georgia. The variant first cropped up in the United Kingdom.

Cobb County health officials said they had identified a case of the new variant strain of the virus and had a growing concern about how infectious the mutation could be.

“We have identified a case of the new variant strain of COVID-19 in Cobb County," Dr. Janet Memark, director of the Cobb County Department of Public Health, said in a statement. "Although it is not considered the predominant strain at this moment, there is an increasing concern for its high infectivity. This particular characteristic of the new variant strain is the reason that it is very important to continue with public health measures we know to work. This includes wearing a mask, watching your distance, washing your hands, and not gathering with groups of people.”

Toomey said she anticipated more cases of the mutated coronavirus, also known as the B.1.1.7 variant, to pop up around the state. Earlier this month, the mutation was discovered during the analysis of a specimen sent by a pharmacy in Georgia to a commercial lab. 

“It is even easier to acquire COVID now going out in public spaces than before because with this variant it’s more easily spread," Toomey said. "We’re urging people to take even extra precautions. Wear a mask, social distance, please avoid crowds, wash your hands.”

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Toomey said the new variant is sensitive to the vaccine, and she urged those eligible to try and obtain the vaccine to prevent spread and protect themselves from catching the new variant strain of coronavirus. Toomey feared an increase in cases could put more strain on healthcare resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and possibly more deaths.

RELATED: Georgia not expanding current COVID-19 vaccine criteria yet, as demand still higher than supply

“At least to date, [the new variant strain] doesn’t appear to be more dangerous in a sense," Toomey said. "It doesn’t cause more complications, but every COVID case can be deadly.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC are continuing to monitor new cases.