US detects first case of COVID-19 variant in Colorado

Man with no travel history first confirmed US case of COVID strain that UK scientists believe is more contagious.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis puts on his face mask during a news conference [File: David Zalubowski/Reuters]

The first reported US case of the COVID-19 variant that’s been seen in the United Kingdom has been discovered in Colorado, Governor Jared Polis announced Tuesday.

The variant 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 the virus variant, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified.

Scientists in the UK believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The vaccines being given now are thought to be effective against the variant, Colorado health officials said in a news release.

Public health officials are investigating other potential cases and performing contact tracing to determine the spread of the variant throughout the state.

“There is a lot we don’t know about this new COVID-19 variant, but scientists in the UK are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious.

People walk past a roadside public health information sign, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, in London, UK, December 29, 2020 [Toby Melville/Reuters]

“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,” Polis said.

Polis and state health officials are expected to hold a news conference on Wednesday.

The discovery of the new variant led the CDC to issue new rules on Christmas Day for travellers arriving in the United States from the UK, requiring they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Worry has been growing about the variant since Saturday, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a new strain of the coronavirus seemed to spread more easily than earlier ones and was moving rapidly through England. The nation’s first variant case was identified in southeast England.

Dozens of countries barred flights from the UK, and southern England was placed under strict lockdown measures. Scientists have said there is reason for concern but the new strains should not cause alarm.

Japan announced Monday it would bar entry of all nonresident foreign nationals as a precaution against the new strain.

Vaccine concerns

New variants of the coronavirus have been seen almost since the virus was first detected in China nearly a year ago. It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. The slight modifications are how scientists track the spread of a virus from one place to another.

But if the virus has significant mutations, it is worried that current vaccines might no longer offer the same protections. Although that is a possibility to watch for over time with the coronavirus, experts have said they do not believe it will be the case with the latest variant.

President-elect Joe Biden said that it could take years for most Americans to be vaccinated for the virus at current distribution rates.

President-elect Joe Biden delivers a speech after a conference video call focused on foreign policy at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware on December 28, 2020 [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Biden’s prediction of a grim winter appeared aimed at lowering public expectations that the pandemic will be over soon after he takes office on January 20, while also sending a message to Congress that his administration will want to significantly increase spending to expedite vaccine distribution, expand testing and provide funding to states to help reopen schools.

Biden said some two million people have been vaccinated, well short of the 20 million that outgoing President Donald Trump had promised by the end of the year.

“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware. At the current rate, “it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”

The variant has also been found in Canada, Italy, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Source: AP