A second case of ‘super-COVID’ variant of coronavirus is now suspected in Colorado, officials said Wednesday.
One National Guard member is confirmed to have the more infectious strain and likely got it within the state, because they had no recent travel history.
That has health officials worried that the ‘super-COVID’ B117 strain first detected in the UK is already circulating in the US.
‘Because the variants spread more rapidly, they could lead to more cases and put even more strain on our already heavily burdened health-care systems,’ said the head of the CDC’s division for emergency preparedness for emergency infections, Dr Henry Walke on a Wednesday press call.
Elbert County health director Dwayne Smith told CNN officials there are investigating a second person thought to have the more contagious strain first detected in September in the UK.
Governor Jared Polis revealed on Tuesday that the Colorado had confirmed the country’s first case in a person in their 20s with no recent travel history.
Their lack of travel history was particularly alarming, because it means the man caught the virus locally, suggesting it is already spreading in the community.
Both people suspected of having ‘super-COVID’ are members of the National Guard who had worked at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, Colorado, which is in Elbert County.
Neither man resides in Elbert County, and Smith told CNN there is ‘no indication at this point’ that the new strain of coronavirus has traveled outside the facility where they worked.
A second man in Colorado is suspected to have the new, more contagious variant of coronavirus. Both he and the first confirmed patient had worked at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, Colorado (pictured)
Each patient is isolating outside the county. It’s unclear if the two workers may have infected – or been infected by – at-risk residents of the facility.
Colorado is the first state in the US to confirm a case of the new strain.
The state health department said in a Wednesday press conference that its lab is working on sequencing the virus detected in the second man.
An investigation to see if there are other cases at the nursing home is now underway.
Scientists are not yet sure if they two National Guard members contracted the British variant of coronavirus at the nursing home or outside of it, and perhaps transmitted on the premises.
Dr Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said the confirmed and suspected cases were two of six National Guard members deployed to Good Samaritan Society’s nursing home. So far, none of the other four have tested positive for COVID-19.
Colorado has thus far tested 22 samples suspected to have the new variant, and it has been ruled out in all but the two National Guard members.
Governor Jared Polis revealed the of the first case in a tweet, on Tuesday, writing: ‘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.’
An attached statement said the Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the case and notified the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The strain – which is thought to be 70 per cent more infectious – was detected in a man in his 20s who is ‘currently in isolation in Elbert County and has no travel history.’
It is not believed that B.1.1.7 leads to more severe cases, and higher mortality rates have not been reported.
‘At this time, there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,’ the CDC stated on their website.
So far, no cases or suspected cases have been reported outside the facility in Simla, about an hour and a half outside of Denver, but the first confirmed patient had no history of recent travel, suggesting the new strain is already spreading in Colorado
Governor Jared Polis released this statement saying the person infected is a man in his 20s who had not been traveling
Colorado’s governor made the announcement on Twitter on Tuesday
The fact the man has not traveled tells officials he caught the strain from someone else in the US.
The man will remain in isolation until he is cleared by health officials.
The statement adds: ‘The individual has no close contacts identified so far, but public health officials are working to identify other potential cases and contacts through thorough contact tracing interviews.’
It is unclear whether he and the second suspected patient were at work at the assisted living facility simultaneously.
Polis said: ‘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 tweeted: ‘Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7’
‘The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will closely monitor the case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators very closely.
‘We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels.’
The news comes after millions of people traveled across the US to see loved-ones during the holidays.
As of Wednesday there were 19.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US, and more than 338,000 deaths.
The new variant of the coronavirus was first identified in September and has been spreading rapidly in Britain, with huge swathes of England being placed under its strictest COVID-19 restrictions.
Britain’s Chief Science Adviser, Patrick Vallance, said the strain first appeared in a virus isolated on September 20.
The mutation known as the B.1.1.7 lineage may be up to 70 per cent more infectious and more of a concern for children.
It reportedly accounts for 60 per cent of recent infections in London.
The news comes after millions of people traveled across the US to see loved-ones during the holidays
The US coronavirus death toll in January could far surpass that of December, Dr Anthony Fauci warned on Tuesday
It has sown chaos in Britain, prompting a wave of travel bans that are disrupting trade with Europe and threatening to further isolate the island country.
It has also been detected in France, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Iceland, Singapore, Australia and Japan, among other countries.
Japan on Monday barred entry to any foreign nationals. This will be in effect until the end of January.
Polis urged people to continue to wear masks, stand six feet apart when gathering with others and only interact with members of their immediate household.
His announcement was made on the same day Dr Anthony Fauci reiterated concerns about the new strain of coronavirus which he correctly predicted had already arrived in the US.
‘I cannot imagine that we’re not going to get it,’ Fauci said of the new strain.
‘The question is preventing it from becoming the dominant strain.’
Officials so far believe that coronavirus vaccines will work against the new strain.
The CDC explains that the new COVID-19 variant has a mutation in the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein at position 501, where amino acid asparagine (N) has been replaced with tyrosine (Y).
Coronaviruses mutate regularly, acquiring about one new mutation in its genome every two weeks.
Researchers have watched SARS-CoV-2 evolve in real time more closely than any other virus in history.
So far, it has accumulated mutations at a rate of about one to two changes per month. That means many of the genomes sequenced today differ at about 20 points from the earliest genomes sequenced in China in January, but many variants with fewer changes are also circulating.
Many mutations are described as being ‘silent’ because they do not change the structure of the proteins they encode, and produce a three-letter codon that translates to the same amino acid. These mutations are known as ‘synonymous’.
Other mutations may change the codon in a way that leads to an amino acid change. and these are known as ‘non-synonymous’ mutations, but this amino acid substitution does not impact the protein’s function.
B.1.1.7 has 14 non-synonymous mutations, six synonymous, and three deletions, the CDC says.
B.1.1.7’s 17 mutations all at once have never been seen before.
‘There’s now a frantic push to try and characterize some of these mutations in the lab,’ said Andrew Rambaut, a molecular evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh.
What is the ‘mutant COVID strain’ and why are experts concerned?
Coronaviruses mutate regularly, acquiring about one new mutation in their genome every two weeks.
Most mutations do not significantly change the way the virus acts.
This super strain, named B.1.1.7, was first identified in the UK in November.
It has since been found in France, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Singapore, Australia and now the United States.
The new COVID-19 variant has a mutation in the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein at position 501, where amino acid asparagine (N) has been replaced with tyrosine (Y).
It is more infectious than previous strains and potentially more harmful to children.
It is not, however, believed to be any more lethal.
Public Health England researchers compared 1,769 people infected with the new variant, with 1,769 who had one of the earlier strains of the virus.
Forty-two people in the group were admitted to hospital, of whom 16 had the new variant and 26 the wild type.
Twelve of the variant cases and 10 of the ‘older’ virus cases died within four weeks of testing.
Neither the hospitalization nor the mortality differences were statistically significant.