DENVER (CBS4/AP) — The first U.S. patient confirmed to have the new COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom is a National Guard member who was deployed to support staffing at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Simla. That’s in Elbert County. It is reportedly a man in his 20s, who has mild symptoms. There is a second possible case, and that person is also a National Guard member deployed to the same facility.
The nursing home has an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 cases that were first identified in mid-December, following routine surveillance testing. All 26 residents tested positive for the coronavirus and four deaths have been reported. Additionally, 20 of 34 regular staff members at the facility have tested positive.
The National Guard members deployed to the facility on Dec. 23 and were tested on Dec. 24.
They will both be ordered to quarantine for 14 days. The confirmed case is now isolating at home in Arapahoe County and the other possible case is isolating at a hotel in Lincoln County.
Good Samaritan Society released this statement to CBS4 on Wednesday evening: The Good Samaritan Society – Simla learned that an allied health worker at our location tested positive for COVID-19. State officials confirmed this individual has the new variant strain of COVID-19. The health, safety and well-being of our residents, staff and the community we serve remains our top priority. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment have been on-site to test employees and residents for the variant. We expect to have the results in the next few days. We will continue to work closely with the state while following the CDC’s infection control measures.
We look forward to beginning vaccinations at this location next week. In nursing homes across the nation, we’ve seen the tragic impact of COVID-19. The vaccine is a huge milestone in the fight against this virus and will help keep our residents and staff safe. But the fight against COVID-19 isn’t over yet. Everyone has a responsibility to help slow the spread of this virus to protect the most vulnerable in our community. We encourage everyone to continue to follow all of the CDC guidelines – wear a mask, keep a distance, limit your time with large crowds, wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick – and get your flu shot now.
-Randy Fitzgerald, Good Samaritan Society regional vice president
It’s not clear how the confirmed case was transmitted.
“Right now we are currently investigating two possibilities for how these individuals may have acquired their infections. First, the National Guard personnel could have acquired their infections while working at the Simla facility,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s top epidemiologist. “And second, the personnel could have acquired their infection through other work or personal activities prior to arriving at the facility.”
Neither of the National Guard members traveled internationally in the weeks prior to their illness.
A new team has been deployed to the facility on Tuesday to collect specimens from staff and residents in that facility to test for the new variant.
Preliminary results from that testing does not show any evidence that the variant virus is circulating in that facility, but testing is ongoing.
The new, mutated version was first identified in Britain, where infections are soaring and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has surpassed the first peak seen last spring. The variant has also been found in several other countries.
“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,” Colorado Gov. Jared 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.”
The discovery of the mutated version overseas led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue rules on Christmas Day requiring travelers arriving from Britain to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
The variant is probably still rare in the U.S., but the lack of travel history in the first case means it is spreading, perhaps seeded by visitors from Britain in November or December, said scientist Trevor Bedford, who studies the spread of COVID-19 at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
“Now I’m worried there will be another spring wave due to the variant,” Bedford said. “It’s a race with the vaccine, but now the virus has just gotten a little bit faster.”
Public health officials are investigating other potential cases of the variant, which was confirmed by the Colorado State Laboratory, and conducting contact tracing to determine its spread.
Scientists in Britain have found no evidence that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reported the weekend before Christmas that the variant was moving rapidly through London and southeast England. The region was placed under strict lockdown measures, and dozens of countries banned flights from Britain. France also briefly barred trucks from Britain before allowing them back in, provided the drivers got tested for the virus.
Japan announced a ban Monday on all nonresident foreigners as a precaution.
New versions of the virus have been seen almost since it was first detected in China a year ago. It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. The fear is that mutations will become significant enough to defeat the vaccines.
South Africa has also discovered a highly contagious COVID-19 variant that is driving the country’s latest spike of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.