By Jamie Leary

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – As COVID-19 variants begin to pop up across the state, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says continued physical distancing protocols will be key.

(credit: CBS)

“If we’re able to maintain those, we actually see very little impact from the variant, and that’s really because we can overcome some of those challenges around increased transmissibility by maintaining all of those things we’re doing to suppress transmission right now,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist at the CDPHE.

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Herlihy discussed the variant spread in Colorado during a virtual press briefing Wednesday. Currently, the CDPHE has identified 41 “variants of concern” in Colorado and 16 “variants under investigation.”

The majority of the cases make up what’s known as the UK variant, the other are known as the West Coast or Denmark variant.

“We feel like we have pretty decent coverage in the state right now to understand and screen for these variants, specifically the B117 [UK] variant which is I think really the variant that we’re most concerned about in the U.S. right now,” said Herlihy.

(credit: CBS)

While early studies show the UK variant is more transmissible and can cause more severe illness, the CDPHE believes the introduction of the variant here will be slower. Herlihy said many states are seeing a decline in cases right now, and other countries were seeing spikes when the variant began to spread.

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“At this point, we’re really not seeing any clear trend that we’re seeing any sort of increase in frequency of these variants in Colorado,” she said.

Currently the CDPHE is screening about three percent of tests for the variant.

“So the way that we screen for that variant is by using a specific type of PCR from a company called Thermo Fisher, and looking for this signature, what we called Sdrop profile,” said Herlihy.

The Mako Medical Community Testing site in Silverthorne is one facility where the state is doing this and where Summit County recently detected two positive cases of both strains among community members.

(credit: CBS)

“So we have been in regular contact with Summit County and are working with not just Summit County, but a number of our mountain communities where we are seeing higher rates of disease transmission to get additional specimens from those counties to our state lab, to really enhance the surveillance that we’re doing in those communities to look for variants,” said Herlihy.

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Summit County said it’s talking with the state about expanding variant screening to the rest of its testing facilities.

Jamie Leary