New coronavirus variant appears in U.S.

new coronavirus variant in us colorado
Photo via Bradley Gordon/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The new coronavirus variant, which is causing worldwide concern for its increased transmissibility, has made its way to the United States. The nation’s first case of COVID-19 from this latest version of the virus, which led to increased holiday lockdown measures in parts of the United Kingdom, was reported Dec. 29 in Colorado. 

The New York Times reported that a man in his 20s with no travel history was detected with the new coronavirus variant, causing concerns that other cases will emerge and it may spread further. 

While Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health epidemiologist Dr. William Hanage said the newly reported case “should not be cause for panic,” he also noted, “it is cause to redouble our efforts at preventing the virus from getting the opportunity to spread.” 

According to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ office, the man is in isolation and his case is being monitored, with efforts underway to identify potential contacts and potential additional cases through contact tracing interviews. 

USA Today reported that the virus was also discovered in California on Dec. 30, in a San Diego County man in this 30s. As with the Colorado case, the person testing positive had no recent travel history.

The new coronavirus variant was discovered in Canada on Dec. 26, adding it to a list of growing nations that now includes the United States. While the new variant is believed to be similar to previous versions in some key respects, including how sick it makes people, it has a number of mutations, concerning some researchers. 

As the Washington Post reported, the Colorado case occurred in Elbert County, a county of about 27,000 people located 50 miles southeast of Denver. The county is classified — along with much of the state — in a serious but not extreme risk category for coronavirus cases.

The article also notes, “Two weeks ago, several hundred people gathered at a community church in the county seat of Kiowa to consider whether to pursue legal actions against Polis and other state officials for imposing coronavirus-related restrictions, according to the Elbert County News. County commissioners and the county sheriff have declined to enforce restrictions emanating from Denver.” 

Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden-Harris advisory team on the pandemic, told CNN that though this version of the virus appears to be more contagious than prior versions, the protective guidelines health officials recommend should be effective against this new version. 

“If this mutation, this mutated virus, which is more contagious, is not widespread yet and beginning to spread, that means it will be even more important to follow the approaches we know work,” he said, citing mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing. 

CNN also noted that a number of countries, including the U.S., instituted travel bans in an attempt to keep the new coronavirus variant from traveling beyond the U.K.’s borders. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current policy is that passengers flying from London to any U.S. destination require a negative coronavirus test taken up to 72-hours before the flight. 

Sources: New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, CNN

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