DENVER, Colo.– On Tuesday, Governor Jared Polis and state health officials announced Colorado’s first case of the of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the UK.
The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed and notified the Center for Disease Control (CDC) of the case.
The individual is a male in his 20s who is currently in isolation in Elbert County and has no travel history, according to the press release from the state.
“The fact that Colorado has detected this variant first in the nation is a testament to the sophistication of Colorado’s response and the talent of CDPHE’s scientist and lab operations,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”
Public health officials are doing a thorough investigation. The individual is recovering in isolation and will remain there until cleared by public health officials.
The individual has no close contacts identified so far, but public health officials are working to identify other potential cases and contacts through thorough contact tracing interviews.
“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. 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. We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels,” said Governor Jared Polis.
According to the CDC, viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and start infecting people.
Scientists in the United Kingdom believe the B.1.1.7 variant to be more contagious than previously identified strains of the SARS-CoV-2 variant, though no more severe in symptoms. In addition, the currently approved vaccines are thought to be effective against this variant.
“The way that the rate infection transmitting is, is speeding up with these new variants,” said Peter Openshaw, Professor Of The Experimental Medicine, Imperial College London. “Inevitably, variation will be driven not so much by transmission as by immunity as we get levels of community vaccination up. So, the vaccines will have to be fine-tuned and adjusted according to whatever strain is most prevalent in the future.”
Dr. David Nicholl a Consultant Physician, and a member of the UK Doctor’s Association said, “I cannot emphasize enough the gravity of the situation and that people must follow the rules. It’s fantastic news about the vaccines. But that is in itself is the biggest logistical exercise this country has ever faced in health. It makes walking on the moon seem like walking in the park.”
The Colorado state lab was the first in the country to quickly identify the variant through sophisticated analysis of testing samples.
The lab initially performed the diagnostic PCR test on the sample and found that the sample was positive for COVID-19 with strong signals for the N gene and ORF1ab (both are detected when a person has COVID-19), but the signal for the S gene was not detected.
When the S gene doesn’t register in the testing, it is called an “S Drop Out Profile,” and it is considered an essential signature for the variant.
The sample was flagged for further investigation. Scientists then sequenced the viral genome from the patient sample and found eight mutations specific to the spike protein gene associated with this variant. Genome sequencing is a molecular profiling of the entire viral RNA sequence.
Governor Jared Polis is expected to speak more about the new strain in a remote press conference on Wednesday.