The Virginia Department of Health is urging residents to maintain their vigilance in preventing the spread of illness after announcing it identified another case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in Virginia.

The variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom late last year, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, the VDH announced in a  news release.

“[I]t is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures,” the release states. “We are in a race to stop the spread of these new variants. The more people that become infected, the greater that chance the virus will mutate and a variant will arise that could undermine the current vaccination efforts.”

Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 work for all of its variants, the VDH states.

“This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19,” the release states.

Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced plans to ease Virginia off of nearly three months of restrictions that limited overnight travel, late-night restaurant alcohol sales and the size of gatherings.

Starting Monday, “The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol will be permitted until midnight,” a release from the Governor’s Office states.

“The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 25 people for outdoor settings, while remaining at 10 persons for indoor settings,” it states.

Outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues may operate with up to 1,000 individuals or at 30% capacity, whichever is lower.

Northam said his staff will study new daily case counts and averages in the months to come while deciding whether to keep easing off restrictions or set more restrictions.

This latest case in Central Virginia was identified in a sample from an adult resident who had no history of travel during the exposure period, the VDH release states.

“A preliminary report from experts in the United Kingdom indicates that this variant causes more severe illness than other variants, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding,” the VDH release states.

In Virginia, 11 other cases of the variant and three cases of the South African variant have now been identified.

To date, the U.K. variant has been identified in 44 other U.S. states.

Because viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the coronavirus as the disease spreads.

Information is available at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html and vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-testing.

COVID-19 cases

Virginia on Thursday added 2,036 new COVID-19 cases, as the Lord Fairfax Health District added 37.

Shenandoah County added 11 cases, Warren County eight, Frederick County seven and Winchester five. Clarke and Page counties each added three.

Page subtracted one hospitalization from its total.

All six localities reported new deaths: two each in Winchester, Frederick, Warren and Shenandoah plus one each in Clarke and Page.

Elsewhere in the region, Harrisonburg reported 10 new cases and no new hospitalizations or deaths, bringing its totals to 5,662 cases, 159 hospitalizations and 71 deaths.

Rockingham County reported 11 new cases and two deaths with no new hospitalizations, for a total of 6,002 cases, 313 hospitalizations and 88 deaths.

The Virginia Department of Health reports that 1,166,434 people (or 13.7% of the population) statewide have received at least one vaccine dose, an increase of 15,736; and 543,394 people have been fully vaccinated, an increase of 26,739.

The Lord Fairfax district administered another 1,109 vaccine doses, fully vaccinating 902 people.

Winchester has reported 15,777 doses so far (up 62) along with 6,533 people fully vaccinated (up 35).

Frederick reported 13,835 doses administered (up 125) and 5,453 people fully vaccinated (up 52).

Clarke reported 4,421 doses (up 19) and 1,828 fully vaccinated (up 13)

Shenandoah reported 11,531 doses (up 398) and 4,499 fully vaccinated (up 335).

Page reported 5,390 doses (up 421) and 1,964 fully vaccinated (up 404).

Warren reported 7,920 doses (up 84) and 3,081 fully vaccinated (up 63).

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com