On Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, Colorado health officials identified the first U.S. case of a U.K. variant of COVID-19 – one which may potentially be more infectious.
After confirming the case, the Colorado State Laboratory immediately notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said.
Polis later added that public health officials were assisting those at the Colorado State Laboratory to locate other potential cases and conduct contact tracing interviews.
“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. “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.”
According to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the new strain – known as SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, by scientists – could be as much as 70% more transmissible. Because of this, many in the U.K. believe that the strain may be responsible for Britain’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
A week prior, on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, the CDC released a statement warning about the possible circulation of this strain of COVID-19 in the United States.
“Ongoing travel between the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the high prevalence of this variant among current U.K. infections, increase the likelihood of importation,” the CDC said. “Given the small fraction of U.S. infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected.”
When asked why this new strain of the virus emerged, the CDC did not yet have any clear answers, but they did note that it could have been “by chance alone.”
“Alternatively, it may be emerging because it is better fit to spread in humans,” the CDC said. “This rapid change from being a rare strain to becoming a common strain has concerned scientists in the U.K., who are urgently evaluating the characteristics of the variant strain and of the illness that it causes.”
Though the “new” coronavirus does indeed “[mutate] regularly,” the CDC assures that most mutations are insignificant. This specific strain is simply being studied to evaluate if it is indeed more transmissible than other strains.
While some worry that COVID-19 tests will become less effective with the spread of new strains, the CDC maintains that tests are designed to “detect the virus in multiple ways,” and “if a mutation impacts one of the targets, the other PCR [polymerase chain reaction] targets will still work.”
When this strain was discovered in Britain, European countries like Ireland, France, Belgium and Germany all issued border closures. Conversely, in the U.S., the Trump administration has not yet put any plans in place to impose COVID-19 screenings for individuals arriving at U.S. airports from the United Kingdom.
Earlier in December, Moncef Slaoui – President Donald Trump’s coronavirus vaccine czar – said that he believes Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against new strains of the virus.