Mercer County Health Department

The Mercer County Health Department sign is pictured in this 2019 file photo. 

By CHARLES OWENS

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Four cases of the more contagious COVID-19 United Kingdom variant have been found in Mercer County, health officials confirmed Tuesday.

The variant, which was first found in the United Kingdom, is more contagious and can be deadlier than the original virus strain. Mercer County has recorded four cases of the U.K. variant so far, Roger Topping, administrator of the Mercer County Health Department, said.

Topping said three of the four individuals diagnosed with the U.K. variant are nearing the end of their 14-day quarantine period. He said a fourth new case of the variant was identified just this week.

"That's why there is a more and more reason for people to get the shots," Topping said of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Topping said the more contagious variant will be able to spread easier in the community when there are still individuals who have not been vaccinated.

"We need to get 70 percent to 80 percent of the people vaccinated," Topping said of Mercer County's vaccination rates, which are still lagging behind the health department's goal. "The variant, the U.K. variant, it is more contagious. The U.K. variant is being watched closely."

Topping said Mercer County already experienced a surge in new cases that was blamed on Easter Sunday gatherings. He is worried that if the U.K. variant gains traction in Mercer County, it could lead to another surge in new cases.

Topping said 1,575 vaccines were administered last week in Mercer County, but the majority of those were individuals receiving their required second-dose shot. He said the health department is now running into a problem of getting individuals who have not yet received a shot to agree to the vaccine. He said some individuals are still holding on to the false believe that the pandemic is not real or is part of a government conspiracy.

Neighboring McDowell County reported two cases of the U.K. variant Monday.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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