8 new cases of more contagious COVID-19 strain reported in Illinois

Local and state health officials on Monday reported eight new cases of a more contagious COVID-19 variant in Illinois.

The latest cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, bring the total number of cases in Illinois to nine, health officials said.

Officials reported the initial single case on Jan. 15 in Chicago.

The nine total cases range in age from 12 to 63 years and were reported in Cook County, officials said.

"We expected to see more cases of this variant crop up, and people should know that the best way to protect themselves is continue wearing a mask, washing hands often, staying six feet away from others and getting vaccinated when it is your turn," said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

The announcement comes as Illinois moves into a new phase of the state’s vaccinations program, which allows frontline essential workers and those 65 and over to begin receiving inoculations.

"We are following closely to see if there is evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease or death,’ said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "Based on the information available now, the vaccine will still be effective."