C.Olorado officials reported the first known U.S. case yesterday, followed by another suspected case today (Dec. 30), of the COVID-19 variant that was spread across the UK and caused dozen of countries to restrict arrival in the UK . Although the variant appears to transmit more efficiently between people, it is no more likely to cause a more severe infection, according to a preliminary report by Public Health England (PHE) released Monday.
“It didn’t teleport across the Atlantic,” says Harvard University epidemiologist William Hanage The New York Times. The newly reported case “shouldn’t be a cause for panic,” he says, adding, “it is a reason to redouble our efforts to prevent the virus from getting the chance to spread.”
Both the confirmed case and the alleged case are members of the Colorado National Guard who were deployed to attend to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Good Samaritan Society’s assisted living facility in Simla, about 45 miles northeast of Colorado Springs help during a press conference on Wednesday. The confirmed case is a man in his twenties who, according to a Tweet from the office of Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
Further cases with the new variant will be discovered in the US in the coming days, predict the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a statement The Washington Post Tuesday. The obvious increase in the risk of contagion of the variant “could lead to more cases and more demand for the already strained health care resources”, according to the agency.
By Tuesday, researchers had discovered the more transmissible variant in at least 17 countries outside the UK, including Australia, Canada and South Korea.
“Now I’m concerned that the variant will cause another spring wave,” epidemiologist Trevor Bedford of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle told the Associated Press. “It’s a race with the vaccine, but now the virus has gotten a little faster.”
According to the PHE report, people previously infected with COVID-19 are unlikely to be re-infected if exposed to the variant. Experts say COVID-19 vaccines will most likely confer immunity to the variant.
The arrival of the new variant “does not fundamentally change the nature of the threat,” says epidemiologist Justin Lessler of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health post Office. “It’s no more deadly than the virus was before, and it doesn’t look like it will infect people who are immune.”
Lessler says he would be “amazed” if this were the only case of the variant in the USA. “We know the virus spreads easily and quickly between countries,” he says, and the patient’s lack of travel history shows that “this strain came here at some point in the past and there are chains of transmission.”
Preliminary contact tracing data in the UK suggests that of those known to have been exposed to someone infected with the variant, 15.1 percent were infected, while those exposed to someone infected with other strains, had an infection rate of 9.8 percent. This difference suggests the variant is more contagious, but PHE says it needs more data to confirm this.
The data from PHE reflect the results of a separate study that was published on a preprint server last week and has not yet been peer-reviewed. It is estimated that the variant known as B.1.1.7 or VOC 202012/01 is 56 percent more transmissible, but no more heavier or more deadly than other variants.
Of the 17 mutations found in the variant, eight are in the segment of the viral genome that codes for the spike protein that protrudes from the virus and allows it to bind to cellular receptors and infiltrate cells. This emerges from a preliminary report on the variant published December 18. Some scientists theorize that these mutations could explain their improved transferability.
British health authorities first spotted B.1.1.7 in September, which means the variant has had ample time to spread outside the country. Despite having the highest number of recorded cases in the world, the US is sequencing far fewer SARS-CoV-2 genomes than the UK, leading scientists to suspect that the variant may have spread undetected across the country before yesterday’s announcement.
Harvards Hanage tells that Times that the US needed to improve the way they monitor the genetic sequences of viruses to see their spread in real time. “The United States is affected by the inconsistency of its approach,” he says. “If we don’t turn on the light, we won’t know it’s there.”
Many scientists say the arrival of B.1.1.7 is a wake-up call. “The lack of virus sequencing and case-tracking in the US is a scandal,” says Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts post Office.