(CBS4) – The medical community in Colorado is weighing in on B.1.1.7, the new COVID-19 variant discovered in the state this week. A 20-year-old man in Elbert County has the first confirmed case in the U.S. He is in isolation and has no history of travel to the United Kingdom, where the variant was first discovered.
“I’m not surprised,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, Director of Infection Prevention at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “Now that it’s in Colorado, it’s probably in more locations and we just haven’t detected it yet, but that won’t be a surprise and shouldn’t cause alarm.”
Barron says health officials expected to see the variant turn up in the United States. She credits work by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in leading the way.
“I think it’s a testament to the technology and due diligence of the CPDHE that we found it in Colorado,” said Barron.
The Colorado state lab was the first in the country to quickly identify the variant first detected in the UK.
“The state lab looks for viruses, and looks for variants every year with our flu, so this is not necessarily new in terms of how they do it,” Barron told CBS4. “What they do is to look at the genetic code of the virus, and then compare the genetic code to what they know the strain is in the UK. That’s how they can tell it’s a new one or a different one.”
With phase one of vaccine distribution underway, many wonder if it will protect them against the new strain.
“All the information we have so far is that the vaccine is very effective against this new variation, so there’s no reason not to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Reggie Washington, Chief Medical Officer of Presbyterian/St. Luke’s and Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. “But know that viruses mutate, that’s what they do. Hopefully these mutations will not negate the vaccine, but so far this new variant is very sensitive to the vaccine.”
Washington says that while the symptoms of the new variant don’t appear to be more severe, it may spread more quickly.
“There are going to be more patients who come down with coronavirus and will have to be hospitalized because there are just more people receiving the virus, and that’s very concerning to us,” Washington said.
With a more contagious variant, a possible spike in cases could be on the way.
“This is a wake up call to remind us that we’re not through this,” said Dr. Barron. “There’s still a lot of potential for this to continue to spread.”