Georgia up to 37 cases confirmed of U.K. coronavirus variant

A man is tested for the novel coronavirus by the public health district for Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties.  A new variant of the virus, called the British or U.K. variant, is spreading throughout metro Atlanta and has been confirmed in Gwinnett and Rockdale counties. (PHOTO by Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
A man is tested for the novel coronavirus by the public health district for Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties. A new variant of the virus, called the British or U.K. variant, is spreading throughout metro Atlanta and has been confirmed in Gwinnett and Rockdale counties. (PHOTO by Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Commissioner: Variant likely widespread here

The coronavirus variant originally discovered in the United Kingdom is spreading throughout metro Atlanta, with 37 cases confirmed in the area as of Monday, according to the state Department of Public Health.

That’s a jump from 23 confirmed at the end of last week.

The U.K. variant of the virus, and others found in South Africa and Brazil, infect more people faster than the novel coronavirus the globe has been experiencing up to now. Preliminary research suggests that once the patient catches the virus, the British variant might also be more deadly than the main virus has been. Whether or not those findings bear out, since the variants can spread more easily, ultimately more people could get sick and die.

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

Health officials are bracing for a bigger wave of infections, and encouraging new measures such as wearing double masks.

The South African variant has been confirmed in South Carolina, but not yet in Georgia, Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the DPH, said Monday.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of Sunday, there were 699 cases of variants of the novel coronavirus confirmed in the U.S. All but nine of them were the U.K. variant, they said. The U.K. or British variant is technically known as the B.1.1.7 variant.

ExploreU.K. variant infects 19 people from nine Ga. counties

Georgia Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said the British variant is likely widespread in Georgia already.

The 37 confirmed cases is a fraction of the true statewide figure. Unlike some other countries, the U.S. is not set up to do enough of the testing that finds variants, called gene sequencing.

Georgia reported more than 23,000 cases of the coronavirus confirmed for the seven days ended on Saturday. For the week prior to that, Georgia reported nearly 33,000 confirmed cases. Georgia is only doing gene sequencing on about 200 a week of those tests.

“Just because the variant has not been identified in a particular city or county does not mean it is not there,” Nydam said.

Here is the breakdown of state-reported U.K. variant cases by county, as of Monday:

Carroll: 2

Cherokee: 3

Clayton: 3

Cobb: 6

DeKalb: 4

Douglas: 2

Fulton: 9

Gwinnett: 4

Paulding: 3

Rockdale: 1

AJC reporters Helena Oliviero, Eric Stirgus and J. Scott Trubey contributed to this article.

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