The first reported U.S. case of COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus strain that’s sparked alarm in the United Kingdom has been detected in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday.
The variant strain was found in a man in his 20s who is in isolation southeast of Denver and has no travel history, state health officials said.
The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed that the man was sickened by the virus variant, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified.
Public health officials are investigating other potential cases and performing contract tracing to determine the spread of the variant throughout the state.
Scientists in the U.K. believe the new virus variant, which has a distinctive set of 17 genetic alterations, is more contagious than previously identified strains of SARS-CoV-2.
British scientists have found a version of the coronavirus with a cluster of genetic changes that make it more transmissible and perhaps more dangerous.
However, many other scientists have pushed back on that view, noting that there are other ways to explain its rapid spread in England.
Any version of a virus can become dominant if it happens to be the first to take hold and start spreading in an area, a situation known to geneticists as the “founder effect.” It’s also possible that super-spreader events through dense communities and among people who were less likely to wear masks and socially distance helped it gain a foothold.
So far, there is no indication that the new strain makes people sicker, or that the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. will be less effective against it.
“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. “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 World Health Organization urges more genomic sequencing to ensure new variants of the coronavirus are detected as pandemic enters its second year.
Polis and state health officials are expected to address the public Wednesday.
Health officials in California are on the lookout for variant as well. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is testing thousands of samples regularly to identify any changes in the virus’ genome.
“We haven’t seen anything related to a new strain yet,” Newsom said at the time.
A memo issued by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Christmas Eve asked labs to review recent data from positive coronavirus tests and see if any matched the genetic signature of the U.K. virus. As of Monday, 29 samples had been examined, and none were the same, according to Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.
Ferrer said there’s a high probability the variant is here, but it doesn’t appear to be dominant.
“Whether the variant is here or isn’t here, the steps we need to take are exactly the same,” she said.
The discovery of the new variant led the CDC to issue new rules on Christmas Day for travelers arriving to the U.S. from the U.K., requiring they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.
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