The first confirmed U.S. case of the strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) first discovered in the U.K. was found in Colorado, the governor of the state announced Tuesday evening on Twitter.
“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. 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,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement Tuesday.
“We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels,” said Polis, who added that public health officials are conducting a thorough investigation and are working to identify other potential cases.
The person who tested positive, a man in his 20s, is currently in isolation and has no travel history, according to Polis, raising the potential that the coronavirus variant is being spread within the community.
A week ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said the mutant strain was already likely being spread in the U.S.
“When you see something that is pretty prevalent in a place like the U.K. — there are also mutations that we’re seeing in South Africa — and given the travel throughout the world, I would not be surprised if it is already here,” he said during an interview on PBS. “When we start to look for it, we’re going to find it.”
A mutated strain of the virus was also detected by scientists in South Africa, according to Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s minister of health, adding that the country’s second wave was “being driven by this new variant.”
Fauci said the mutant strain does not appear to be more dangerous than the prevalent strain of the virus and that vaccines currently being distributed likely will provide some level of protection.
“Most of the mutations have no function or relevance,” the doctor said, explaining that RNA viruses such as COVID tend to change easily.
Other federal health experts echoed those sentiments, saying there was “no reason to believe” the newer strain would be resistant to the vaccines currently approved in the U.S.
When the strain was first discovered in the U.K., surrounding countries implemented travel bans that caused trucks to be backed up for miles and people to be stranded at airports just before Christmas.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also asked airlines to test airline passengers coming from the U.K. in an effort to catch the strain before it gained a foothold in New York, where cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been steadily rising.