In a stark indication that the new, mutated strain of COVID-19 that has been infecting the population of the UK has been in the United States for some time, Colorado officials confirmed Tuesday that they’ve identified the first official case of the virus in a patient with no history of travel. The strain, which is believed to be much more contagious than the original strain of the virus, has been of top concern to health officials who worry that its spread will outpace the rate of vaccination domestically and abroad.
“Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the UK,” tweeted Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. “The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely.”
Polis released a public statement confirming only that the patient is a man in his 20s who has not traveled recently, setting up the likelihood – one might say the undeniable fact – that the new strain is already in the community.
“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,” said Polis. “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. I want to thank our scientists and dedicated medical professionals for their swift work and ask Coloradans to continue our efforts to prevent disease transmission by wearing masks, standing six feet apart when gathering with others, and only interacting with members of their immediate household.”
While it may seem unusual that an international strain of the virus would first appear on our domestic radar in Colorado and not, say, New York City or Los Angeles, officials in the state credited the first-rate scientific technology as one reason for the rapid identification.
“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 of the 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.”
The news is a bit of a bummer, of course, seeing as how the CDC and the Trump administration just limited incoming travel from Britain on Monday. But then, it was known even at the time that the odds were overwhelmingly likely that this new strain was already in the United States. It remains to be seen if those travel restrictions will remain in place now that we have a confirmed case within our borders (and almost certainly many other cases that have yet to come to light).
The one ray of light is that health officials on both sides of the pond are confident that the new strain – while more contagious – is no more deadly than the original COVID variation.