Colorado public health officials are investigating a second possible infection from the more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was confirmed to be in the state on Tuesday.
Both the confirmed and suspected cases of the new variant — known as B.1.1.7 — are among Colorado National Guard members who were sent to help with staffing at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Simla in Elbert County after an outbreak of COVID-19 began at the facility earlier this month, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist.
Colorado is the first state to discover the new variant in the United States, and federal and state public health authorities have said they expect more cases to appear in the coming days. The variant has spread quickly through the United Kingdom, and has become the dominate form of the virus in southeast England.
“We don’t yet have a good idea of how prevalent it is” in Colorado, said Gov. Jared Polis during a news briefing on Wednesday.
The first case appeared in a man in his 20s who is isolating at home in Arapahoe County. The person with the suspected case is isolating in a hotel in Lincoln County.
The new variant is believed to be more contagious than previous strains of the coronavirus, but it does not lead to more severe symptoms. The COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer are also believed to protect against the strain.
Public health and medical experts said that because the variant was found in a rural county, it is likely it has been in the state for some time, just undetected.
As the new variant is considered more contagious, there is a concern about it increasing transmission of the disease COVID-19 in the state. People are encouraged to keep washing their hands, wearing masks and only interact with members of their household, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Because of the concern that the new variant could reach nursing home and other long-term care facilities in the state, Colorado has asked federal regulators to allow officials to stop visitation at the facilities so that residents can get vaccinated quickly, Polis said.
The state is investigating whether the two individuals became infected at the assisted-living facility or through their daily lives, Herlihy said.
The two National Guard members arrived at the facility Dec. 23, after the outbreak began, and were tested a day later. To determine if the new variant is circulating in the nursing home, the state sent a team to the facility Tuesday to collect test samples that will be processed Wednesday, Herlihy said.
“So far, based on the testing that has been performed in that facility we do not have evidence that the variant virus is circulating in that facility, but testing is ongoing,” she said, adding that more test samples will be tested and collected in the coming days.
All 26 of the residents at Good Samaritan Society have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and four have died from the disease. At least 20 of the 34 employees at the facility have also tested positive, Herlihy said.
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