Colorado has the first-in-nation case — and may have a second — of the COVID-19 variant virus that has made news in the United Kingdom in recent weeks.
According to an announcement from the governor's office, the confirmed case is a person who caught the virus, a young man in his 20s. The man has no travel history, the announcement said, and he is in isolation.
Dwayne Smith, director of public health for Elbert County, told Colorado Politics there is a second suspected case. Both individuals were working in Simla, but neither is an Elbert County resident. He could not disclose where the two individuals live.
CDPHE is handling the investigation, and they have been in communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
"This is a fluid situation," Smith told Colorado Politics. CDPHE has done the initial case investigations and will also do follow-up contact tracing, Smith said.
“The fact that Colorado has detected this virant first in the nation is a testament to the sophistication of Colorado's response and the talent of CDPHE's scientist and lab operations,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in a statement Tuesday. “We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”
The first known cases of the new COVID variant were discovered last month in the UK, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
“I’m not surprised,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Washington Post on Tuesday. “I think we have to keep an eye on it, and we have to take it seriously. We obviously take any kind of mutation that might have a functional significance seriously. But I don’t think we know enough about it to make any definitive statements, except to follow it carefully and study it carefully.”
The new virus, a mutation of COVID-19, is 70% more contagious and spreads more easily from person to person, the CDC reported on Dec. 28. In London, six out of every 10 cases of COVID are tied to the mutation.
While the mutated virus does respond to standard COVID-19 treatments, the CDC is looking into whether vaccines currently being distributed worldwide will be as effective in combating the disease, which it called the greatest concern from this variation. The Washington Post said the new mutation has now shown up in at least 17 countries outside the United Kingdom, including as far away as Australia and South Korea.
As of Dec. 27, the CDC is requiring all air passengers coming from the UK to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before entering the United States. That applies to U.S. citizens as well.
Gov. Jared Polis plans to discuss the new case at a press conference Wednesday morning.
“There is a lot we don’t know about this new COVID-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious," Polis said in a statement Tuesday. "The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will closely monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely.
"I want to thank our scientists and dedicated medical professionals for their swift work and ask Coloradans to continue our efforts to prevent disease transmission by wearing masks, standing six feet apart when gathering with others, and only interacting with members of their immediate household.”