The first U.S. case of a new strain of COVID-19 that originated in the U.K. has been confirmed in Colorado’s Elbert County, according to the Colorado State Laboratory.
The variant has cropped up in numerous locations throughout the world since its recent discovery — and rapid spread — in the U.K., prompting global worries and rapid responses from health officials. The strain is believed to be more contagious than previously identified strains, although it does not appear to produce any more severe symptoms.
In the Colorado case, the patient is a male in his 20s, a National Guard member working at a nursing home without any travel history to the U.K. He has since been placed in isolation while public health officials conduct a thorough investigation. So far, they do not believe the individual had any close contacts, although experts fear the case’s appearance could show the disease is already elsewhere in the state.
“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. We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels. 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.”
The news prompted Polis to deliver a news conference on Wednesday, during which he and his administration announced that Colorado residents ages 70 years and older will be vaccinated alongside frontline workers during Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination distribution plan. Previously, those aged 65 years or older were to wait until Phase 2. The change was due to increased risk of death for people in that age group.
According to Polis, the rollout should take about four to five weeks and include EMS, firefighters, police, COVID-19 response personnel, correctional workers, and funeral service workers. According to Polis, 78 percent of Colorado’s COVID-19 deaths have been among those aged 70 and up.
“We shared our data with CDC,” Scientific Director Dr. Emily Travanty said during the news conference. “They were one of the first contacts we made. They felt it was good, that it was the variant right from the start. We continue to work with them closely. We are also increasing our surveillance throughout the state.”
The variant led to widespread lockdowns in London and European travel bans against the U.K. However, the United States has no such travel bans in place.
The Polis administration credited sophisticated analysis of testing samples for the quick identification at the Colorado State Lab. After flagging a sample for further investigation, given its positivity for COVID-19 but lack of a signal from a particular gene, the sample had its viral genome sequenced. Scientists uncovered eight mutations specific to the spike protein gene associated with the variant.