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CALDWELL — Health officials have confirmed the first known infection with a new variant that causes COVID-19 in a man living in Southwest Idaho.

The case is Idaho’s first identified infection with a known variant of concern of COVID-19. The individual recently traveled internationally and is thought to have been exposed before returning to Idaho.

Laboratory testing identified the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2, which was first discovered in South Africa in late 2020. SARS-CoV-2 is the new type of coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19. 

There have been 19 infections with this particular variant reported from 10 states. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the B.1.351 variant includes a mutation associated with increased transmissibility of COVID-19. 

Epidemiologists at Southwest District are working with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to identify any close contacts who were possibly exposed to this person. Health officials will provide guidance to anyone identified as a close contact and will monitor them closely for symptoms. A Department of Health and Welfare spokesperson declined to give any more specifics about which part of the six-county region the man is from. 

“We are not surprised to find this virus in Idaho” said Dr. Christine Hahn, medical director in the Division of Public Health. “As we just learned from Boise City’s wastewater testing program this week, variant strains have arrived in the state. We remind Idahoans to continue wearing masks, physically distancing, washing hands frequently, and staying home when ill. In addition to getting vaccinated when it becomes available for you, those actions are the best things we can do now.”

In Stage 3 of Idaho's statewide reopening plan, there are restrictions on travel, however, "individuals should adhere to all state, regional, city or county ordinances and resolutions, as well as CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel."

CDC guidelines require all air passengers arriving to the U.S. from a foreign country to get tested no more than three days before their flight departs and to present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight.

The CDC also recommends after traveling, individuals get tested three to five days after travel and stay home and self-quarantine for seven days after travel. Even if the individual who traveled gets a negative test, the CDC recommends they stay home and self-quarantine for the full seven days. If a person traveled and is unable to get tested, they should stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel, according to the CDC.​

Neither the Department of Health and Welfare nor Southwest District Health were able to confirm Friday afternoon whether the individual had followed those guidelines.

Two new variants of COVID-19 were discovered in wastewater samples from three Ada County cities, Central District Health reported earlier this week.

Idaho public health officials are actively investigating infections suspected to be caused by the new variants. The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories continues to expand the number of Idaho samples being sequenced to identify emerging strains and better understand how the virus is spreading in the state.

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