State health agency continues to work with CDC on surveillance for variant strains

Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials announced today the state now has 19 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus variant strains.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified DPHHS late yesterday (March 16) and today (March 17) of 11 additional variant cases that match two California variant strains and a New York variant strain.

These cases involve specimens of Montana residents that were submitted for testing dating back from January to early March 2021. These 11 cases are from Beaverhead, Cascade, Glacier, Hill, Jefferson, Madison, Phillips, Roosevelt, Silver Bow, and Valley. When these samples were submitted for testing, the California strains and New York strain had not yet been classified by CDC.

These 11 cases are in addition to eight UK variant cases confirmed in Gallatin County residents. Three of the Gallatin cases were confirmed late yesterday as well.

The CDC has three separate classifications of COVID variants. The strains identified in Montana are consistent with strains identified across the United States. The three classifications are labeled as followed: variant of interest, variant of concern and variant of high consequence. Currently there are no variants that rise to the level of high consequence in the U.S.  

“Montana continues to submit both random and suspect COVID-19 samples to the CDC for testing,” DPHHS Director Adam Meier said. “As more surveillance and testing continues, it’s not surprising to find more confirmed variant cases in Montana and the US. The information that is learned through identifying more variants will be vital going forward.”

To date, nearly all states now have confirmed cases of at least one of the variant strains.

DPHHS has now posted a map online of confirmed variant strains in Montana.

Meier stressed the best thing Montanans can do to protect themselves from COVID-19, including the new variant strains, is to get vaccinated. He said it’s important to continue to follow CDC guidance around wearing a mask for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals.

Meier stated it’s important to remain vigilant to limit the spread of COVID-19 because that is how the virus replicates and creates new variants. Montanans are encouraged to continue to practice basic public health prevention methods to keep case numbers low in Montana including: wearing a mask to protect yourself and others, practicing social distancing by staying six feet apart, staying home if you are sick, covering your cough, washing your hands often, and avoiding large crowds.

Montanans interested in getting their COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to visit covidvaccine.mt.gov to find information regarding vaccine availability and scheduling in their area.

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