Colorado public health officials said Wednesday they’ve likely identified a second case of the new, more contagious, variant of COVID-19 a day after the first confirmed case in the U.S. was found in the state’s Elbert County.
Elbert County public health director Dwayne Smith told CNN the suspected second case of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, was found in a man working at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, a rural town roughly 50 miles northeast of Colorado Springs.
The first patient, a man in his 20s, had also been working at the home. According to Smith, both men were working in non-clinical roles and had joined the facility as a result of a COVID-19-related staffing shortage.
Both are now in isolation as tracers work to alert possible close contacts.
A request for comment from the Good Samaritan Society regarding the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in Simla was not immediately returned.
The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed Tuesday it had detected B.1.1.7 in the first patient, noting the individual had no recent travel history.
Trevor Bedford, a scientist who studies the spread of COVID-19 at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said that lack of travel history means the new variant is already spreading in the U.S., likely having arrived from British travelers in November or December.
The mutant COVID-19 variant has already been detected in at least 18 other countries, including the United Kingdom.
“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,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said in a statement. “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.”
Researchers in the U.K. warned last week that B.1.1.7 is at least 56% more contagious than the initial strain of the coronavirus that first emerged late last year in China. So far, the mutations do not appear to make it more deadly, though it follows that a greater rate of infection will lead to a greater number of hospitalizations.
Recently approved COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna are expected to be effective against the new strain.
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