A case of the contagious variant of coronavirus, first discovered in the UK, was found in Colorado on Tuesday, Governor Jared Polis said. It is the first confirmed case of the variant in the United States.
The variant was discovered in a man in his twenties with no travel history, Mr Polis said. The man was isolated in Elbert County, southeast of Denver, he said.
The fact that the Colorado man had no travel history raises the worrying possibility that the variant is already well established in his community – and perhaps elsewhere. “It didn’t teleport across the Atlantic,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University.
“This shouldn’t be a cause for panic,” said Dr. Hanage. “But it is an occasion to redouble our efforts to prevent the virus from getting a chance to spread.”
Scientists are concerned about these variants, but not surprised by them. It is normal for viruses to mutate, and most of the mutations in the coronavirus have been shown to be minor. There is no evidence that an infection with the variant known as B.1.1.7 is more likely to lead to a severe case of Covid-19, increase the risk of death or evade the new vaccines.
However, the speed at which the variant appears to be spreading could lead to more infections – and therefore more hospitalizations.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about this new variant of Covid-19, but scientists in the UK are warning the world that it’s far more contagious,” Polis said in a statement. “The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will monitor this case as well as any Covid-19 indicators very closely.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Tuesday that they expected “there will be more cases that are likely to be discovered in the coming days”.
The case identified on Tuesday was in Elbert County, Colorado, with a population of about 27,000. Colorado’s cases, deaths and hospitalizations have steadily declined in recent weeks.
It is not clear where B.1.1.7 originated. The UK has the largest system for sequencing the genomes of coronaviruses, which is why the variant may have been found there first. Cases of the variant have been identified in more than a dozen countries around the world. Health officials in Ontario, Canada, said Saturday that they had identified two cases of the variant in a couple with no known travel history or exposure.
Apr. 29, 2020, 7:48 am ET
Earlier this month, British researchers observed that the variant was becoming more common in parts of the UK. Your subsequent research suggests that the variant spreads more easily than others in circulation.
It is not yet clear why B.1.1.7 transmits more easily. The line has accumulated 23 mutations since splitting off from other coronaviruses. The researchers are studying some of the mutations to see if the viruses can enter cells more easily or make more copies of themselves.
The UK government reacted to the emergence of B.1.1.7 by restricting the movement of people and the size of the gatherings. In a preliminary study, UK researchers found that schools may need to be closed and vaccination programs aggressively accelerated to prevent a huge surge in cases.
Countries around the world have introduced stricter protocols for travelers entering from the UK. A new rule in the United States requiring incoming travelers from the UK – including American citizens – to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test upon entry went into effect on Monday.
With the United States sequencing far fewer genomes than the UK, American scientists suspected that the variant may already have been undetected in the country. It seems they were right.
Dr. Hanage said the US needs to improve surveillance on the genetic sequences of circulating viruses to track their spread. It’s conceivable that the new variant fueled recent outbreaks in the Midwest and Rhode Island, for example, but scientists don’t know because health officials across the country haven’t been tracking the viruses carefully.
“The United States is affected by the inconsistency in its approach,” he said. “If we don’t turn on the light, we won’t know it’s there.”