DENVER – State health officials say three people in Colorado have now tested positive for a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus, with another possible case still pending results.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officials said Thursday the new case and a second possible case were found among staff members at the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons operated by the Colorado Department of Human Services.
The state first confirmed the arrival of the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant on Dec. 29, and identified the infected as a Colorado National Guard member in Elbert County. At the time, state health officials said a second member of the Colorado National Guard was suspected of being infected with the new mutation, which was first reported in the U.K. toward the end of September.
On Thursday, the CDPHE said the state lab had changed the status of that possible case to confirmed, bringing the total number of cases of the new variant in the state to three.
In a statement Thursday evening, the CDPHE said epidemiologists were closely monitoring the situation and are conducting an investigation on any further potential exposure.
The new variant of SARS-CoV-2 is believed to be more contagious than previously identified strains of the new virus but doesn’t appear to cause more severe symptoms. Additionally, health officials said, currently approved vaccines for COVID-19 vaccine are thought to be effective against the new variant.
However, there is concern that if it's more transmissible, it could lead to more hospitalizations, more filled ICU beds, and the potential to overwhelm the health care systems, according to Dr. Eric France, the chief medical officer of the CDPHE.
In Thursday's statement, the CDPHE said the state was now screening all samples they receive for the S drop out profile associated with the B.1.1.7 variant, and the department has asked other labs across the state to submit batches of positive tests so they, too, can be screened.
State health officials say Coloradans can protect themselves from the B.1.1.7 variant by following public health protocols: Hand washing, mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding gatherings.
Colorado is believed to be the first state in the U.S. to have identified the first confirmed case of the new variant.