A new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 has made its way to the United States. Colorado governor Jared Polis confirmed Tuesday that the mutated coronavirus, which was discovered in the United Kingdom, was identified in a man in his 20s from Elbert County, outside of Denver.
“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 governor said, according to The New York Times. “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.”
The patient had not traveled recently, indicating that the new variant is likely spreading through the community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that it expects “there will be additional cases that are likely to be detected in the coming days.”
While there is no evidence that the new strain is more deadly or that current vaccines will be ineffective, the potential for more rapid transmission has alarmed public health officials. The mutated virus could make it more difficult to combat surging caseloads, arriving just as state governments are scrambling to vaccinate vulnerable populations.
Mutations of the coronavirus are to be expected, according to the CDC. “Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear,” the agency explains on its website. “Other times, new variants emerge and start infecting people. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.”
The CDC notes that the U.K. variant first appeared in September and is now “highly prevalent” in London and southeast England, although it is not clear where the variant originated. Other, unrelated strains have been detected in South Africa and Nigeria.