BISMARCK — North Dakota has identified seven cases of the more contagious strain of COVID-19 since it announced its first cases about a month ago.

Though the number of known cases of the variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, is relatively low, the North Dakota Department of Health says it's likely more people have been or are infected with the strain, and residents are urged to remain vigilant against COVID-19.

The seven cases have been identified in various regions throughout the state, though the Department of Health declined to comment specifically on where the cases were found.

"These are the ones we are aware of, and we're not able to screen 100% of everybody who tests positive and not everybody who's positive gets tested, and so we know that we're not seeing the whole picture here," said Kirby Kruger, the Department of Health's disease control director.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were almost 4,700 known cases of this variant nationwide as of March 11. Forty-eight states have identified at least one case of the variant, with Florida reporting the highest number of variant cases with 738 as of March 11.

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Scientists estimate the variant is anywhere between 35% to 45% more transmissible than the strains commonly found in the U.S.

The North Dakota Department of Health confirmed its first cluster of four cases of the variant one month ago after one person had recently returned from domestic travel to another state. The others were close contacts of the traveler. Since then, the Department of Health has detected three additional cases of the variant. No other COVID-19 variants had been identified in North Dakota as of Tuesday, March 16.

North Dakota's public health lab analyzes some of the state's COVID-19 tests to look for the variant first detected in the United Kingdom. Some of North Dakota's tests are handled by private laboratories outside of the state, and Kruger said the state does not know how many of those tests are being screened for variants.

Kruger said it's important North Dakotans continue practicing COVID-19 mitigation strategies and get the vaccine when it's their turn.

"We're urging people to get vaccinated. We know that at least with the U.K. variant that the immunity induced from the vaccination is going to provide good coverage against this particular variant, and so we're just encouraging people to get vaccinated," Kruger said.

Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at