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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

First U.S. Case Of Contagious COVID-19 Variant Identified In Colorado

Rae Ellen Bichell
Staff at the CDPHE state lab test patient samples for COVID-19 in March 2020.

Health officials said Tuesday that the more-contagious variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom is now in the United States. Colorado officials said a lab confirmed what is believed to be the first U.S. case — an Elbert County man in his 20s with no travel history.

While considered more contagious, the variant of the virus, known as B.1.1.7, is not believed to be more severe. State health officials said the man is isolated and recovering from the virus. State investigators said contact-tracing efforts are ongoing with the aim of identifying other potential cases.

The variant has been blamed for a surge in cases across Britain that prompted new lockdowns and bans on travelers from that country. Yet the variant remains uncontained. Several countries, including Canada, have identified cases.

U.S. officials said the variant appears to have a foothold in the country.

"We expect that there will be additional cases that are likely to be detected in the coming days," said Jasmine Reed, a spokesperson for the federal Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Gov. Jared Polis reiterated that to cut down on the spread of the virus, Coloradans should wear masks and stand six feet apart when gathering with others as well as limit interactions to members of their immediate household.

“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,” Polis said in a statement.

Scientists identified the variant through a positive COVID-19 test at the Colorado lab. The test did not register an S gene that’s typically associated with the virus so it was flagged. The sample viral genome was then sequenced and eight mutations specific to a protein gene associated with the variant were detected.

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the discovery of the variant was a testament to the state’s efforts to track the virus.

“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,” she said.

Polis and state officials are expected to provide further details in a press conference Wednesday morning.

As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.