The first United States case of the more contagious coronavirus variant that was initially discovered in Britain was found in Colorado on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis said, raising the worrisome possibility that the variant is already well established in the patient’s community — and perhaps elsewhere.“It didn’t teleport across the Atlantic,” said William Hanage, a public health researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The variant was detected in a man in his 20s with no travel history, Polis said. The man was in isolation in Elbert County, southeast of Denver, he said.
Hanage said the newly reported case “should not be cause for panic.” But, he added, “it is cause to redouble our efforts at preventing the virus from getting the opportunity to spread,” he said.
Scientists are worried about variants but not surprised by them. It is normal for viruses to mutate, and most of the mutations of the coronavirus have proved minor. There’s 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.
But the speed at which the variant seems to spread could lead to more infections — and therefore more hospitalizations.
“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. “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.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Tuesday that it expected “there will be additional cases that are likely to be detected in the coming days.”
The case identified Tuesday came from Elbert County, Colorado, with a population of about 27,000. Colorado’s cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been steadily falling in recent weeks.
It’s not clear where B.1.1.7 arose. The United Kingdom has the biggest system for sequencing the genomes of coronaviruses, which may be why the variant was first found there. Cases of the variant have been identified in more than a dozen countries across the world.