DENVER ― Colorado public health officials said Wednesday that they have likely identified a second case of the new, more contagious, variant of COVID-19 a day after the first confirmed case in the U.S. was found in the state’s Elbert County.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy told reporters the suspected second case of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, was found in a man working at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, a rural town roughly 50 miles northeast of Colorado Springs.
The first patient, a man in his 20s, had also been working at the home. According to Herlihy, both men are members of the Colorado National Guard and had been deployed to the nursing home for nonclinical work as a result of a coronavirus-related staffing shortage.
The National Guard personnel didn’t arrive at the facility until Dec. 23, several weeks after the outbreak began at Good Samaritan, which suggests the B.1.1.7 cases may have been contracted prior to their arrival at the facility.
Further bolstering that point, Herlihy said there is no evidence the variant virus is currently circulating at the facility.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said the state has requested a temporary pause on all nursing home visitation, during which time residents and staff will be vaccinated.
Trevor Bedford, a scientist who studies the spread of COVID-19 at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said that lack of travel history means the new variant is already spreading in the U.S., likely having arrived from British travelers in November or December.
The mutant COVID-19 variant has already been detected in at least 18 other countries, including 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,” Polis said in a statement. “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.”
Researchers in the U.K. warned last week that B.1.1.7 is at least 56% more contagious than the initial strain of the coronavirus that first emerged late last year in China. So far, the mutations do not appear to make it more deadly, though it follows that a greater rate of infection will lead to a greater number of hospitalizations.
Recently approved COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna are expected to be effective against the new strain.
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