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Virus variant from United Kingdom found in Arizona

PHOENIX — A new coronavirus variant first identified in England has been found in Arizona, health officials said Friday.

The state Department of Health Services reported the United Kingdom strain was confirmed in COVID-19 tests from three people. The agency is working with other public health agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to monitor the situation.

No details about the people infected such as if they had recently traveled were given.

Viruses constantly mutate, and coronavirus variants are circulating around the globe. But scientists are primarily concerned with the emergence of three that researchers believe may spread more easily. This variant, one from South Africa and one in Brazil have already been confirmed in the U.S.

Arizona health officials say this development underscores the need for the public to commit to mitigation measures like wearing masks and social distancing.

The news comes as the death toll in Arizona, the U.S. state with the worst COVID-19 infection rate, has surpassed 13,000.

The Department of Health Services on Friday reported 5,028 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 203 additional deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 748,260 cases and 13,022 deaths.

Arizona’s COVID-19 deaths passed the 12,000 mark one week earlier.

COVID-19 related hospitalizations and the state’s seven-day rolling averages of new known daily cases and daily deaths have slowed recently. But hospital officials this week urged Arizonans against becoming complacent about mask wearing and social distancing.

One person among every 166 Arizonans was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past week, and 3,970 COVID-19 patients occupied hospital inpatient beds as of Thursday, down from the pandemic high of 5,082 on Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, health officials reported that 592,288 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to date have been administered in Arizona. The state is preparing to ramp up appointments with the opening of another mass vaccination site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Monday.

The state website for appointment registration has been the subject of numerous complaints for not being user-friendly. Officials say improvements have been made and that people who get a first dose at a state-run site will automatically be offered a time slot for their second dose.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.