Coronavirus variants

A laboratory technician in ARUP Laboratories’ Molecular Infectious Diseases Lab prepares a specimen for COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing. ARUP is sequencing a portion of specimens that test positive for SARS-CoV-2 to detect possible variant strains of the virus, including the UK variant.

A coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa has been circulating in Teton County since January, according to the Teton County Health Department. 

A positive COVID-19 test taken in January by a Teton County resident has been genotyped and identified as the COVID-19 variant B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa in late 2020, the Health Department announced in a news release Monday. That variant contains multiple mutations, including several within the spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and has garnered attention due to increased spread of COVID-19 in areas where it has been detected, the release said.

In addition, Teton County has identified 8 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention variant tracking site, last updated Sunday, Wyoming has reported 9 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant statewide. The CDC site did not yet reflect this newest confirmation of the South African variant in Wyoming, showing only 81 cases reported nationwide of the South African variant as of Sunday. 

Genetic sequencing is not available for every COVID-positive sample, making it difficult to have an accurate count of variant cases, Health Department officials have said. 

“We are encouraging community members to continue to test for COVID-19 especially if they are sick," Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said in a statement. "Testing is still our best mechanism to identify people who test positive for COVID-19 and to quickly work to determine their close contracts so that we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community."

Of the variants first found in the U.K. and South Africa, plus a third variant, P.1, identified in Brazil, the CDC states: "These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19."

Ridell stressed that local health officials are working to vaccinate as many people in the community as quickly as possible "before more cases of the COVID-19 variants are detected and these variants become more widespread."

The Health Department is asking residents to continue to practice COVID-19 preventive measures like wearing a dry, double-layer fabric mask over the nose and mouth, maintaining a distance of 6 feet or more from others outside of one's household, washing hands regularly with soap and water and staying home when sick.

For more on local recommendations, testing and vaccination plans visit:

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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JOhn Smothers


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