- New Jersey has registered the first known death in the US from the UK coronavirus strain, state officials announced Wednesday.
- The White House COVID-19 team separately said the country was identifying cases of the new strain too slowly.
- Earlier in January, the UK entered a new lockdown in order to lessen transmission and effects from the new variant.
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New Jersey state health commissioner Judy Persichilli announced Wednesday that one person has died from the UK-identified coronavirus variant, marking the first known US death from the new strain.
The new variant is more transmissible and has contributed to a large spike in cases and deaths in the UK.
"It's more important than ever with the variant to continue to mask up, social distance, stay home when you're sick," Persichilli said at the press briefing. Officials added that there are at least six cases of the new strain identified in New Jersey, but that the data is "soft."
Persichilli added that one of those individuals traveled internationally.
Eddy Bresnitz, a COVID-19 adviser for New Jersey said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has geared up testing for variants, and Gov. Phil Murphy added that with the new variant identified, New Jersey and the federal government need to move faster on vaccine distribution.
"It's a pretty complex system that they've launched at this point, and we're part of that," said Bresnitz. Persichilli added that the individual who died from the new COVID-19 strain had significant underlying conditions.
Officials at the conference added that the current vaccines are effective against the variant.
"We've been operating under the assumption that it is here, and this is confirmation of that," Murphy said. "And that number is only going to go up."
At the start of January, the UK entered new national lockdowns in order to lessen transmission and effects from the new variant.
Last week, UK health officials stated that the variant may be more deadly, which could be due to a number of reasons — including viral load and how many additional people it could infect — as reported by Business Insider's Aylin Woodward.
In New York, state officials told reporters on Wednesday that 42 cases of the UK variant have been identified.
"We don't know exactly what is going on with the new strains," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters during a press briefing. "And the concept of not knowing is very troubling for me."
The Biden administration's COVID-19 response team said at a meeting Wednesday that the US is identifying the new variant slowly.
"Believe it or not, we are 43rd in the world at genomic sequencing," Jeff Zients, the White House COVID Coordinator, said on Wednesday.
White House officials added that as of January, 26,308 cases of the UK variant had been confirmed in 26 States.
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