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//Gov. Jared Polis at a press conference July 16, 2020. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | est.fdez20b@gmail.com

The COVID-19 variant that has been raising alarms in the U.K. was confirmed in one Colorado National Guard member and is suspected in another. Both members were stationed at the Good Samaritan Simla Nursing Home in Elbert County on Dec. 23 and tested positive after taking COVID tests on Dec. 24. 

The presence of the variant,  COVID-19 B 1.1.7., was confirmed by Dr. Emily Trivante, Scientific Director of the state public health lab, at a Wednesday press conference with Gov. Jared Polis. Based on the known timeline of COVID-19 transmission, it is not believed that either person contracted the virus at the nursing home.

“To be clear, this doesn’t mean Colorado is the first state that has people with the variant, in fact, it very likely exists in many states, particularly states that have more interaction with the United Kingdom in the New England and Mid-Atlantic area but I’m very proud that our state lab was the first to detect that variant,” Polis said. “I fully expect that other states and state labs will also detect it in the coming weeks and months. We don’t yet have a good idea of how prevalent it is either nationally or in our state.”

The confirmed individual is in their 20s and has no history of travel. Both people in question are in monitored isolation. Extensive contact tracing is underway and those who have been in contact with both individuals are already being tested. 

The B 1.1.7 variant was first identified in the U.K. in late September. While it is normal for a virus to mutate, B 1.1.7 is presumed to be between 50-70% more contagious but more research is needed to confirm the exact contagion level. 

“We know viruses constantly change over time and we expect more mutations to happen with the virus,” Travanty said. “We will continue to perform the sequencing surveillance at the state laboratory to keep an eye on how this virus is changing as this pandemic continues to unfold.” 

Many counties have begun phase 1B of the Pfizer vaccine rollout. Before the press conference, the state government announced a decrease in the age of the general public included in this phase from 75 years old to 70, a divergence from CDC guidelines. Gov. Polis said this decision is in no way related to the presence of the new variant. He suggested that anyone over 70 immediately seek out the vaccine.  

“It appears that this vaccine, we estimate it will be just as effective for the new variant as it was with the old,” said Colorado Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France. 

Gov. Polis is seeking approval from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to halt visits to Nursing Homes until phase 1B has been completed. He also reminded Coloradans to continue to wear masks, maintain social distance, and avoid gatherings. 

“2021 is going to be a lot better than 2020 but for that to be a reality we need to make sure that we’re responsible over New Year’s Eve and New Year,” Polis said. 

For Esteban Fernandez’s story on how to navigate the COVID-19 relief funds passed by the Colorado General Assembly last month, click here