Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday that the case involves a man in his 20s who didn’t have a recent travel history. He was working at a Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, which has had an outbreak over the past few weeks.
“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.
“We will closely monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indictors, very closely,” he said. “We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels.”
Health officials believe they may have found a second case of the variant at the Good Samaritan Society facility, according to CNN. Both men were temporarily working at the facility due to staffing shortages after the outbreak and are not regular staff.
“The state health department has deployed a rapid response team to the assisted living facility in Simla to test residents and staff,” Dwayne Smith, the county health director, told CNN.
Viruses mutate often, and several variants of the coronavirus have been reported this year. Most mutations don’t have significant impacts on the spread of the disease. The U.K. variant appears to be more contagious, which could lead to a further spike in cases.
“If you have twice as many cases, then even if the amount of people who are sick is the same rate as it is currently, that would definitely be bad,” Diane Griffin, MD, an immunology professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News.
The variant has been confirmed in more than a dozen countries, including Canada, France, Japan, and South Korea. Another variant has been identified in South Africa. Researchers in the U.K. have said the variant found there doesn’t seem to cause more severe COVID-19, though public health experts are concerned that the increase in transmission will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.
“An increase in something that grows exponentially (i.e. transmission) can have far more effect than the same proportional increase in something that just scales an outcome (i.e. severity),” Adam Kucharski, PhD, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, wrote on Twitter.
The variant has also been linked to higher loads of the virus in respiratory samples, according to a new U.K. study published on a preprint server on Sunday. Among 641 samples from COVID-19 patients who had symptoms, 35% who were infected by the variant had high viral loads, as compared with 10% who didn’t have the variant.
“It does seem as though the patients with this variant have higher viral loads -- then the obvious thing is it is easier for them to spread it to other people,” Michael Kidd, one of the study authors at the Public Health England laboratory in Birmingham, told The Guardian.
Now researchers are studying how the variant reaches a high viral load and how that plays a role in transmission.
“Like pieces in a jigsaw, we need other evidence,” Kidd said, adding that the study offers an “on-the-ground explanation of why this virus may have the ability to spread more easily -- because patients are more infectious.”