COVID-19 virus

Colorado's identified yet another COVID-19 variant in the state, state health officials said Thursday.

Five cases of the variant have been identified in Mesa County, Colorado epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy told reporters. This latest strain, first identified in India, is still not fully understood by health officials. It's unclear if it has characteristics that make it as concerning as other variants, several of which are more transmissible and potentially more severe.

Because the variant -- and its potential impacts -- is not fully understood, Herlihy said this latest variant is currently classified as a variant of interest. The more serious classification, a variant of concern, could be applied to this Indian strain if it's found to have "concerning" characteristics, like if it's more deadly or more easily spread. This variant has similar mutations as its more concerning cousins, which Herlihy said may mean that this one is more serious than is  understood now.

Herlihy said none of the five cases had previously traveled out of the country. 

"The investigation is still ongoing at this point to try to understand other risk factors and connections that might exist," she said.

The variant is yet another new strain identified here. Colorado was the first state in the United States to identify the United Kingdom variant in January, a strain that is now a dominant strain statewide. Herlihy has previously said that variants now account for more than half of all cases in Colorado, with a bulk of those cases made up of the English strain.

As of Thursday afternoon, there have been at least 3,590 cases of concerning variants in Colorado. That is certainly an undercount; only a certain amount of identified positive cases are then sequenced to determine if they're a variant, and enough of the random samples have turned up positive to indicate to state health officials that variants are widespread here.

Colorado had previously identified the United Kingdom, South African and Brazilian variants, all of which have been designated as variants of concern.

State officials have said Colorado is in a race to get as many residents vaccinated as possible before the variants can wreak havoc on the state. A fourth pandemic wave has emerged over the past month, though there are some signs it's started to subside, and its mortality and hospitalization rate has been below previous waves because of vaccinations.

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