As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the U.S., public health officials are on the lookout for a new strain of the coronavirus that’s believed to be more contagious than the version that’s caused more than 350,000 deaths in the country already. The new COVID-19 variant is believed to have originated in the U.K. and has now turned up in three U.S. states. CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.
The very first case of a new coronavirus strain in the U.S. turned up in a remote part of Colorado, in the town of Simla, population 600, at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home.
“The individual is a man in his 20s who was working in Simla, not recently traveled,” said Jared Polis, Colorado governor. “He’s currently recovering in isolation, mild symptoms.”
He’s one of two Colorado National Guard members who were sent to help with staffing at the facility. The other Guardsman is suspected of having the same infection. All two dozen-plus residents of the home had already tested positive for COVID-19.
“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 other contacts outside of the facility they may have had during their deployment,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado State Epidemiologist.
The B.1.1.7 COVID variant was first identified in the U.K., is believed to be responsible for more than 60 percent of cases there and has now spread to some three dozen countries. The strain is more transmissible than the original virus but it’s not clear why.
“It could be because the virus replicates faster and so you get a higher viral load, which means you’re more infectious,” said Peter Horby with the New and Emerging Respiratory Threat Advisory Group.
But experts don’t believe it makes illnesses any more severe.
“There’s no indication at all that it increases the virulence,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “And by virulence, I mean the ability to make you sick or kill you.”
The U.K. variant has been identified in at least 19 countries. A separate variant is now spreading rapidly in South Africa. In the U.S., a 30-year-old man, also with no travel history, has tested positive for the U.K. strain in California.
“We actually don’t know that it’s not already in other parts of the United States or in other parts of the world,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, UCHealth’s Infection Prevention senior director. “I would say almost with certainty it is because this is just what viruses do.”
Just as coronavirus infections are showing signs of leveling off in the U.S., the concern is that the new variant could cause cases to spike yet again in the New Year.
“If you’re ill, instead of only making two or three other people sick, you might actually spread it to four or five people,” said Dr. Eric France, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment director. “Of course with more cases come more hospitalizations, more ICU beds being filled and the potential of overwhelming over health care system.”
The variant does not appear to cause reinfections in people who’ve recovered from the virus. And it’s believed the new COVID-19 vaccines will be able to control it. It’s proof this type of virus mutates easily.
“The bottom line is that we need to suppress transmission of all SARS-Cov-2 viruses as quickly as we can,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General. “The more we allow it to spread, the more opportunity it has to change.”
Meantime, Colorado authorities are investigating how the new strain surfaced here in the hopes that its spread can be minimized or at least contained.