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Aspen Public Radio will keep you informed on the latest information about the coronavirus here in Colorado and the Valley.

Health Officials Confirm New, More Contagious COVID-19 Variant In Colorado

Rae Ellen Bichell
Staff at the CDPHE state lab test patient samples for COVID-19 in March 2020.

Updated at 12:58 p.m. Wednesday

State health officials say a Colorado National Guard member has the country’s first confirmed case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. that some scientists say is more contagious. This is the same variant discovered in the United Kingdom. According to a news release, the Colorado State Laboratory confirmed and notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the finding.

The individual is a male in his 20s who is currently in isolation in Elbert County, outside of Denver, and has no travel history. He is recovering and will remain in isolation until he has been cleared by public health officials.

The man was deployed last week to a nursing home in a small town southeast of Denver. A second national guard soldier working at the same facility has also been identified as possibly having the variant. State epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said in a news conference Wednesday that investigators are still trying to figure out where it came from.

"We have an extensive investigation underway to identify all contacts the cases may have had in the two weeks leading up to their deployment, as well as any contacts outside of the facility they may have had outside of their deployment," she said.

Additional testing at the nursing home, so far, has shown the variant is not spreading to others at the facility. Health officials said the vaccines being given now are thought to be effective against this variant, and symptoms do not appear to be more severe.

“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. 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,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a statement Tuesday. “I want to thank our scientists and dedicated medical professionals for their swift work.”

The Colorado state lab was the first in the country to quickly identify the variant through sophisticated analysis of testing samples.

“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, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”

Scientists who have been researching the variant in the United Kingdom believe the B.1.1.7 variant to be more contagious than previous strains the SARS-CoV-2 variant, though the symptoms are no more severe. In addition, the currently approved vaccines are thought to be effective against this variant. 

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents some 14,000 facilities across the country, issued a statement on Wednesday.

“This development comes at a time when long term care facilities are facing the worst outbreak since the spring,” the organization’s president and CEO, Mark Parkinson, said. “Soaring community spread has resulted in a record-breaking number of cases and deaths in nursing homes — nearly 25,000 cases and 4,000 deaths per week.”

COVID-19 vaccination clinics for long-term care facility residents and staffers began on Monday. They are expected to take 12 weeks to complete.

Ariel was the News Director for Aspen Public Radio from 2020 - 2021.
Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.
I joined KUNC in 2016 to oversee news operations just as the station changed its format to round-the-clock news and information. I got my start as a journalist at the turn of the century, working as a newspaper. I took the advice of my mentors and didn't get too comfortable at any one place, working in several newsrooms along Colorado's Front Range, learning a little more about the state each place I went. I spread my wings as a freelancer after that. I worked for many publications, including Salon, 5280 magazine in Denver and my own, now-defunct bloggy news site that, among other things, ran cartoons rejected by the New Yorker. I also got my first taste of broadcast journalism, working for "48 Hours Mystery," "60 Minutes" and, eventually, a day job as a producer at the investigative desk at 7News in Denver. My first story in public radio was a collaboration with KUNC in a subject I've long explored -- the treatment of injured troops returning home from war. It won a national Edward R. Murrow award, one of the many awards over my career I've been lucky enough to win. In 2017, I won a Columbia-duPont award for my investigation into the same subject with NPR Investigative Correspondent Danny Zwerdling.