dangerous times

Alarming South African COVID-19 strain and UK variant emerge in Houston

Alarming South African COVID strain and UK variant emerge in Houston

Coronavirus COVID-19
Two new strains may be on the loose in Greater Houston. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Two worrying COVID-19 variants may be spreading through Houston.

The COVID-19 variant found in South Africa has been confirmed in the Houston area, while the city of Houston has confirmed its first two cases of the variant found in the United Kingdom, CultureMap news partner ABC13 reports.

A Fort Bend County man has been diagnosed with the South African variant, according to  Fort Bend County Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Minter. The patient, she said at a briefing, has recovered.

Meanwhile, two Houston-area men — both in their 50s — have been confirmed as suffering from the UK variant. One man traveled overseas in late December and into January, ABC13 notes; the other man’s travel information has not been disclosed. One of the men is being hospitalized.

In grim news, the Houston Health Department advises Houstonians to assume that the UK variant of the coronavirus is now circulating.

“We must assume the UK variant is spreading in our city,” reads a  health department tweet, also noting that the vaccines “appear to be effective against the UK variant but it will be months before enough people are vaccinated to make a difference.”

Harris County’s first case of the UK variant was identified last month.

This news comes as city officials do not expect to offer increased appointments for vaccines, though thousands of new inoculations arrived in Houston this week and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expects to set up a mega site here.

As CultureMap previously reported, one-third of Texans have reported that they will not seek vaccinations. Time will tell if these new variants will force a change of heart.

This is a breaking news story; CultureMap will update it as it develops.