The mutated coronavirus strain is thought to be more contagious than other common strains and has been raising alarm around the world
A mutated strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been raising alarm all around the world since being discovered in the U.K. in recent weeks. Since it was discovered, it’s been slowly but surely identified in a number of other countries. And now, a lab in Colorado has identified the first confirmed case of the new strain in the United States.
The Colorado State Laboratory sequenced and confirmed the variant, which is called B.1.1.7, in a man in his 20s who had no travel history, which makes it likely that the new coronavirus strain is already spreading undetected in the U.S. The strain has caused fresh alarm (and a new slew of travel restrictions around the world) because scientists think it’s even more transmissible and can spread faster than variants of COVID-19 that are already common.
“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,” Colorado 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.”
State officials also said that they are working to identify any close contacts of the man who was confirmed to have the coronavirus variant, but that they haven’t found any yet. The U.S. has fallen far short of other countries on its contact tracing efforts during the pandemic, as cases here have spiraled more and more out of control since last spring.
Trevor Bedford, who studies the spread of COVID-19 at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is concerned that the new variant could mean a new wave of virus spread. “Now I’m worried there will be another spring wave due to the variant,” he says. “It’s a race with the vaccine, but now the virus has just gotten a little bit faster.”
Last week, countries across Europe began banning travel from the U.K. No such ban exists in the U.S., though most air passengers arriving from the U.K. are required to show proof of a negative test within three days of their flight. The CDC pointed to that fact, as well as the fact that only around 51,000 of the U.S.’s 17 million coronavirus cases have been genetically sequenced, as evidence that it was likely the new strain was already here and circulating. They also reassured the public that there’s no evidence that the new strain makes patients more sick, or increases their risk of death. Scientists are also confident that the COVID-19 vaccines that are rolling out now around the world will be just as effective against this variant.