Colorado officials identify first case of COVID-19 variant seen in UK

Variant found in man in his 20s who is in isolation in Elbert County
uk variant covid testing
Posted at 4:49 PM, Dec 29, 2020

DENVER – Colorado officials have identified the state’s first case involving a COVID-19 variant seen in the United Kingdom and some other countries in recent weeks, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

The variant, B.1.1.7, was identified in a man in his 20s who is currently isolating in Elbert County. The man had no travel history and public health officials have so far not identified any close contacts of his, though the investigation is ongoing.

The state said its lab was the first in the country to identify the new variant. A PCR test done on the sample did not find a so-called “S gene” signal, which officials say is a signature for the variant of COVID-19.

Scientists then sequenced the genome from the man in Elbert County’s sample and found eight mutations that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment say are specific to the variant’s signature spike protein.

“The fact that Colorado has detected this virant 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 CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan in a statement Tuesday. “We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”

The variant has been identified in countries across the globe, but scientists are still trying to figure out whether it is truly more severe than prior strains of COVID-19 and whether or not it is more contagious, which initial research has suggested.

There have been restrictions surrounding travel from the U.K. to other countries put in place in recent weeks, including a testing requirement for people traveling to the United States and all-out bans on air travel from the U.K. to other countries.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week that scientists were “intensively” studying the variant and its effects.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Ryan, the public health department executive director, are expected to further discuss the variant’s arrival in Colorado in a news conference Wednesday morning.

“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,” the governor said in a statement.

This article was written by Blair Miller for KMGH.