A member of the Colorado National Guard has the first reported case of the newly discovered variant of COVID-19 in the United States, health officials said Wednesday.
A second case is suspected in a fellow Guardsman, according to officials. The two were sent to work at a nursing home struggling with a coronavirus outbreak in a small town outside Denver on Dec. 23, according to Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist.
Colorado state health officials, along with the state's governor, announced Tuesday they detected a case of the new coronavirus variant discovered in the United Kingdom.
“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,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said. “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.”
The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the virus variant, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified.
The individual is a man in his 20s with no travel history; he is currently in isolation at his home near Denver, and the person with the suspected case is isolating in a hotel on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, Dr. Herlihy said.
“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. 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. We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement Tuesday.
“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 of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”
The discovery of the mutated version overseas led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue rules on Christmas Day requiring travelers arriving from Britain to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Scientists in Britain have found no evidence that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it.
Authorities in the United Kingdom have blamed the new virus variant for soaring infection rates across the country. They said the variant is much more transmittable, but stress there is no evidence it makes people more ill.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reported the weekend before Christmas that the variant was moving rapidly through London and southeast England. The region was placed under strict lockdown measures, and dozens of countries banned flights from Britain. France also briefly barred trucks from Britain before allowing them back in, provided the drivers got tested for the virus.
Japan announced a ban Monday on all nonresident foreigners as a precaution.
New versions of the virus have been seen almost since it was first detected in China a year ago. It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. The fear is that mutations will become significant enough to defeat the vaccines.
South Africa has also discovered a highly contagious COVID-19 variant that is driving the country’s latest spike of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.