Updated 4:16 p.m. CST
A second case of a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus has been detected in Wisconsin, less than a month after it was first seen, health officials said Tuesday.
The variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom in December was found in Wisconsin on Jan. 12 in Eau Claire and again on Sunday in Waukesha County by lab partners of the state Department of Health Services.
Wisconsin chief medical officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard called the development “concerning" and said there were likely “many more cases” of it in the state than have been detected, he said. Only a small number of tests collected can be checked for variants through whole genome sequencing.
“Wisconsinites must continue to be vigilant to stop the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, staying home, washing their hands, and getting vaccinated when they are able," Westergaard said in a statement.
The variant has been moving rapidly through the U.S. via community spread rather than through interstate or international travel, and it could become the dominant form of the virus in the near future, Westergaard said during a news conference.
Wisconsin ranks 10th in the percentage of population that has received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state health department reported that 793,474 doses had been administered as of Tuesday. A little more than 174,000 people had received a second shot.
Meanwhile, after hitting a peak in mid-November the state recorded its lowest seven-day average of new cases in five months on Tuesday. The seven-day average was 970, the lowest since it was 886 on Sept. 9. The state reported 681 confirmed new cases on Tuesday.
Wisconsin ranks 38th in the country in new cases per capita over the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Westergaard said that the dip shows people have “gotten into a groove” of avoiding gatherings and wearing masks. Contact tracers who were overwhelmed with tracking cases this fall also have been able to get a better handle on local clusters as numbers decline, helping control spread, he said.
The state has recorded 551,050 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The health department on Tuesday reported 39 more deaths from the disease, pushing the state's overall death toll to 6,094.