A 20-something man from Colorado is the first American known to be infected with a new variant of coronavirus that emerged this fall in the U.K., raising concern that a more transmissible strain could spread widely across the country.
The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the patient had the mutated form of the virus, known as B.1.1.7, and informed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a statement Tuesday.
The infected man has no recent travel history, challenging health officials to find the possible source of infection and identify others who may be at risk. He is currently in isolation in Elbert County, located halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs.
State health officials plan an update on their response to the finding in a briefing set for Wednesday.
“There is a lot we don’t know about this new Covid variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious,” Polis said in the statement. “The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will closely monitor this case, as well as all Covid-19 indicators.”
Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the UK.
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. pic.twitter.com/fjyq7QhzBi
— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) December 29, 2020
The new variant is thought to be 56% to 70% more transmissible than other strains of the virus and is contributing to a spike in cases in the U.K. It isn’t believed to be more deadly than the original strain responsible for Covid-19, which has infected 81.9 million people worldwide and killed 1.8 million of them.
The strain has been identified in more than a dozen countries, including Canada. CDC officials said last week that it was likely the strain had already made its way to the U.S. and that identification of patients was just a matter of time.
The emergence of a mutated version that could accelerate the spread of the disease comes just as public health officials worldwide are rolling out vaccinations against the pathogen in hopes of shutting down the pandemic. While the immunizations are expected to remain effective against the new strain, its faster transmission ratchets up the race to get people protected from the virus before they become infected.
On Dec. 24, the Trump Administration said it was requiring passengers flying from the U.K. to show proof of a negative test for coronavirus. Regions from Hong Kong to Canada have temporarily suspended travel from the U.K.
The new variant was responsible for 62% of Covid-19 infections in London in the week ending Dec. 9, up from 28% in early November, according to Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich School of Medicine.