Colorado reports 1st case of COVID-19 variant found in UK

Credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Colorado leaders announced Tuesday that a man in Elbert County has been infected with the COVID-19 variant that was previously reported in the United Kingdom.

This is the first confirmed case of the variant in the United States, according to health officials.

The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 and notified the Center for Disease Control (CDC) of the case. The infected person is a man in his 20s who is currently in isolation in Elbert County. He has no travel history to that area.

Scientists in the UK said they 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.

“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 Gov. Jared 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.”

Public health officials are doing a thorough investigation and said the man will remain in isolation until cleared by public health officials.

So far, no close contacts have been identified, but public health officials are working to identify other potential cases and contacts through contact tracing interviews.

The Colorado state lab was the first in the country to quickly identify the variant through sophisticated analysis of testing samples, health officials said. 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.

“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 (CDPHE). “We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”

Polis and state officials will provide additional details at a news conference Wednesday morning.

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