Colorado confirms first case of highly contagious COVID-19 variant in US

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Colorado officials on Tuesday confirmed the first case of a new coronavirus strain in the U.S. as the same variant hurtles across the United Kingdom. 

Gov. Jared Polis (D) said in a statement that the Colorado State Laboratory notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the case, which involves a male in his 20s who is currently in isolation. The patient has no travel history. 

Polis said that public health officials are currently investigating the case and that the man will remain in isolation until he is cleared by health officials. No close contacts with the patient have been identified so far, but contact tracing interviews are underway. 

“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 Polis. 

The U.S. is now one of at least 17 countries outside the U.K. to have a confirmed case of the mutated strain of COVID-19. Virtually all the cases outside the U.K. have not spread rapidly, as the strain has in Great Britain, and most of the confirmed cases originated from someone who had traveled to the U.K. 

Public health officials have said the variant is more infectious than the original strain that has been circulating the globe for months, though it is not believed to be any more lethal. Vaccines currently out by Pfizer and Moderna are also anticipated to be effective against the new strain.

A new study put out Tuesday by Public Health England found that 15.1 percent of people exposed to someone with the new strain became infected, while 9.8 percent of people exposed to someone with the original strain contracted the coronavirus.

“We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The new strain, known as B.1.1.7, is believed to be fueled by alterations in the spike protein on the virus’s surface.

It has 17 mutations overall, eight of which impact the virus’s spike protein. The virus was identified in Colorado after tests showed it did not have the S gene, the absence of which is a key indicator of the B.1.1.7 variant.

The mutated strain has swept across the U.K. with alarming speed in recent weeks, causing No. 10 Downing St. to impose strict restrictions over broad swaths of England to blunt the virus’s spread.

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