(CN) — The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the first known case of Covid-19 variant B.1.1.7 in the United States on Tuesday, a strain first identified in the United Kingdom and considered to be more contagious than earlier known strains.
The unnamed male resides in Elbert County, where he is currently isolating, and is reportedly in his 20s. According to the state, he has no known travel history. How he contracted the strain — and whether he passed it on to others — remains under investigation.
“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,” Governor Jared Polis said in a 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, very closely. We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels.”
The governor urged Coloradans to continue to follow state and local guideline to prevent the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus: wearing masks, maintaining six feet of physical distance and only interacting with household members.
Elbert County is a rural community inhabited by 27,000 people southeast of Denver. To date, Elbert has reported 959 cases and nine deaths and is classified by the state as code red, indicating severe risk of disease transmission. With Colorado confirming an average of 2,219 new daily cases over the last week, most of the state is under code red restrictions.
Nearly 20 million Americans have been infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 and 336,000 people have died since the pandemic began in February. Winter weather, social gatherings and holiday travel has contributed to a national surge in the spread of the virus, which is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer.
According to the state, Colorado identified the B.1.1.7 variant during a routine nasal swab test, which identified two key markers for Covid-19 — the N gene and OFR1ab — but failed to identify the S gene.
The “S drop out profile” is one of variant B.1.1.7’s signature traits which allow public health researchers to identify it.
Further analysis of the sample’s RNA sequence revealed “eight mutations specific to the spike protein gene associated with this variant,” a state press release said.
“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,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in a statement. “We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”
The World Health Organization reports the variant to be 40 to 70% more transmissible between people compared to other strains of SARS-Cov-2, although it does not appear to cause a more severe illness. Vaccines being distributed under emergency approval are thought to be effective against this and other variants of SARS-Cov-2.
Among other concerns, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions new variants can allow viruses to spread more quickly, cause milder or more severe symptoms, and evade diagnostic tests.
Cases of the virus, also called SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01, have been identified in Australia, Denmark, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands, according to the World Health Organization.
The Elbert County Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment before Wednesday morning’s press conference with state officials.