Coloradan with COVID-19 variant is National Guardsman working at nursing home in Elbert County


DENVER — State health officials say the first reported case of coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 was found in a National Guard member who was deployed to a nursing home in Simla to respond to an outbreak there.

A second case is suspected in another Guard member deployed to the same nursing home, but state officials have not yet confirmed he has the variant. Health officials said that confirmation could take up to a week.

The man who is confirmed to have the variant has mild symptoms and is isolating at home, according to Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist. He has no travel history and will remain in isolation until cleared by public health officials.

Herlihy said the two guardsmen were deployed on December 23 to the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Simla, which is about 50 miles northeast of Colorado Springs.

Herlihy said the nursing home outbreak began in mid-December. All 26 residents, as well as 20 of the 34 regular staff members, have tested positive for the virus. Four resident deaths are linked to the virus, according to Herlihy. Herlihy said the guardsmen arrived after most of the cases had already occurred.

Herlihy said the state is still testing specimens, but so far, there is no evidence the variant is circulating at the facility.

State officials said a total of six National Guard personnel were deployed to the facility, and only these two have tested positive for the virus.

State officials are still working to determine if the guardsmen contracted the virus at the nursing home, or in their own communities before or while they were deployed.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is considered more contagious — a warning health officials in the United Kingdom have been raising since it was first discovered by scientists in the country.

The variant is most likely still rare in the U.S., but the lack of travel history in the first case means it is spreading, perhaps seeded by visitors from Britain in November or December, said scientist Trevor Bedford, who studies the spread of COVID-19 at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

“Now I’m worried there will be another spring wave due to the variant,” Bedford said. “It’s a race with the vaccine, but now the virus has just gotten a little bit faster.”

Scientists in Britain have found no evidence that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it.

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