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Virus Variant Identified In Britain Found On Navajo Nation

A coronavirus variant first identified in Britain has been found on the Navajo Nation, tribal health officials said Tuesday.

The United Kingdom strain was confirmed in a sample obtained in the western part of the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. It has been detected throughout the United States.

The Navajo Department of Health is working with states and other public health agencies to identify any more variant cases, Navajo President Jonathan Nez said.

“We don't want to cause panic, but we want to reinforce the need to take all precautions by limiting travel, getting tested if symptoms occur, wearing one or two masks, avoiding medium to large in-person gatherings, practice social distancing and washing your hands often,” Nez said in a statement.

Viruses constantly mutate, and coronavirus variants are circulating around the globe.

The person who tested positive for the variant on the Navajo Nation had been fully vaccinated. The person was hospitalized and is recovering, said Jill Jim, the tribe’s health director. Contract tracing determined the variant did not spread beyond that person, she said.

Loretta Christensen, the chief medical officer for the Indian Health Service’s Navajo-area service unit, said Monday that the tribe will start distributing free rapid home test kits in an effort to monitor the trajectory of the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the Navajo Nation reported 12 new COVID-19 cases and one death. It was the first reported coronavirus-related death in three days. The tribe has reported 30,097 cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began and 1,247 known deaths.

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.