Coronavirus label

EAU CLAIRE — A more contagious variant of COVID-19 found in two more Eau Claire County residents is leading health officials to believe there are many more cases out there.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department announced Tuesday that test samples from a teenager and a person in their 50s revealed both had the B.1.1.7 strain, which researchers believe spreads easier and more rapidly than the original SARS-CoV-2.

The two people are unrelated to each other or the first case of the strain identified in the county on Jan. 12, according to a Health Department news release.

There were no connections found between the three confirmed local cases of B.1.1.7.

The county’s first confirmed case was a person who had recently traveled internationally, but that’s not the situation with the latest two. The teenager and adult have not traveled recently or had contact with a person who had returned from a trip, the Health Department stated.

The absence of a link between them and the small proportion of COVID-19 tests that undergo genome sequencing to identify B.1.1.7, is leading health officials to remind people to take precautions against contracting or spreading coronavirus.

“With emerging mutations of this virus, including those that may be more infectious, it is critically important to follow best public health practices, including wearing a mask, staying home, maintaining physical distance, washing hands frequently, and getting vaccinated when you become eligible,” Lieske Giese, Health Department director, said in the news release.

The two new identified with B.1.1.7 in Eau Claire County stayed within their households while they were considered to be contagious and are no longer required to isolate, the Health Department stated. Neither person required hospitalization during their illnesses.

Nationwide, there have been 1,173 cases of B.1.1.7 found in 40 states, according to an online map last updated on Sunday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The B.1.1.7 strain was first discovered widely circulating in England during November and December.