Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday that the new variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom and now reported in Colorado has likely been spreading undetected person-to-person in the United States.
The new strain is one of two new mutations of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, known by the scientific name SARS-CoV-2, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness. The one first identified in the UK, which bears the scientific name VOC 202012/01 or lineage B.1.1.7, has infected at least 3,000 people in Britain as of Dec. 26, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The other strain, dubbed 501.V2, was first noted in South Africa, according to the agency.
“Both appear to infect people more easily,” said Henry Walke, COVID-19 incident manager with the CDC, at a briefing Wednesday.
Walke said the VOC 202012/01 variant, a case of which has been detected in a patient in Colorado, has likely been spreading undetected more broadly in the United States.
“Public health authorities in Colorado detected a variant that was first identified in the UK, in a person who reported no travel history. The lack of reported travel history suggests this variant has been transmitting from person to person in the United States,” he said.
Colorado officials said Wednesday that a second possible case of the variant was under investigation.
“We are aware of one confirmed and another possible case with the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus,” Colorado state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said at a news conference, USA Today reported. The confirmed case was identified in a man in his 20s who had mild symptoms and was isolating at home in Arapahoe County, while the second possible case was in an individual in Lincoln County, who is also under quarantine, according to the report.
California health officials have also confirmed a case of the VOC 202012/01 or B.1.1.7 variant of the virus, in a 30-year-old man in San Diego County, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I don’t think Californians should think that this is odd. It’s to be expected,” Fauci said of the new case in the state, adding that more cases of the variant are likely to surface elsewhere in the country.
Walke said that health authorities do not know how widely the UK variant has been spreading in the United States, or whether the one first identified in South Africa has made it to the United States.
There is currently no data suggesting that either strain is more deadly than the original variant, which he said has already “heavily burdened health care systems” in America.
“It is important to know that, at this time, there is no evidence that either of these variants causes more severe disease or increases the risk of death,” Walke said.
Because both strains seem to spread more easily, it is important Americans are “even more vigilant” in taking precautions, Walke said, and urged mask-wearing, social distancing, ventilating indoor spaces, and frequent hand-washing and sanitizing.
He said health officials believe the vaccines that are currently available to fight COVID-19 will be effective against both strains and that, “we’re still learning how these variants might respond to drugs and other COVID-19 treatments, including monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma.”
Walke said viruses constantly mutate and new variants were expected to emerge over time.
“Many mutations lead to variants that don’t change how the virus infects people,” he said. “Sometimes, however, variants emerge that can spread more rapidly, like these.”
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement on Tuesday that, since Dec. 26, a number of new VOC 202012/01 cases have been reported in other European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
The agency also said that new cases of the UK variant have been noted in countries beyond Europe, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, South Korea, Switzerland, and Singapore.
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