More Contagious Coronavirus Variant Found in Colorado

The Four Percent

A case of the more contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in Britain was found in Colorado on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis said. It is the first confirmed case of the variant in the United States.

The variant was detected in a man in his 20s with no travel history, Mr. Polis said. The man was in isolation in Elbert County, southeast of Denver, he said.

“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,” Mr. Polis said in a statement. “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.”

Scientists are worried about these variants but not surprised by them. It is normal for viruses to mutate, and most of the mutations of the coronavirus have proved minor.

“This should not be cause for panic,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University. “But it is cause to redouble our efforts at preventing the virus from getting the opportunity to spread.”

Earlier this month, British researchers observed that the variant was becoming more prevalent in parts of Britain. Their subsequent investigations suggest that the variant — known as B.1.1.7 — spreads more readily than others in circulation.

It’s not yet clear why B.1.1.7 transmits more easily. The lineage has accumulated 23 mutations since it split off from other coronaviruses. Researchers are investigating some of the mutations to see if they allow the viruses to invade cells more readily or make more copies of themselves.

There’s no evidence that an infection with B.1.1.7 is more likely to lead to a severe case of Covid-19 or increase the risk of death. But the speed at which the variant seems to spread could lead to more infections — and therefore more hospitalizations.

The British government has responded to the emergence of B.1.1.7 by enforcing stronger restrictions on people’s movements and the size of gatherings. In a preliminary study, British researchers found that schools may need to be closed and vaccination programs aggressively accelerated to prevent a huge surge in cases.

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