Colorado officials are investigating a second "highly suspicious" but not yet confirmed case of a coronavirus variant potentially found in another COVID-19-positive patient.
Both the confirmed coronavirus variant case and the potential second case involve members of the Colorado National Guard who were deployed to help Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Simla, where there was a widespread outbreak of COVID-19.
Both individuals arrived at the nursing home on Dec. 23 and tested positive on Dec. 24. The positive tests were processed at the state lab, which had been on alert for the B.1.1.7. variant since it was first discovered in Britain. The lab is now conducting an investigation of the nursing home residents and staff as previous positive test results were processed through an outside lab.
Preliminary results do not indicate that the variant is circulating through the nursing home, officials said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Both the confirmed case of the variant and the suspected case have been ordered to isolate for a period of 10 days while officials conduct contact tracing and attempt to determine where the variant was picked up from. The patient with the confirmed variant is experiencing mild symptoms.
"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," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said. "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."
Polis thanked researchers at the state lab for identifying the variant, but noted that he believes it "is unlikely to be the first person with the variant here in the U.S."
He said that so far researchers have not discovered anything to indicate that the variant may cause more severe symptoms, but that it is believed to be more transmissible.
Earlier in the press conference, Polis said that many areas of the state were moving into Phase 1b of vaccine distribution, and that beginning Wednesday residents aged 70 and up would be eligible to receive the shot.
"Anybody age 70 and up can now legally receive the vaccine," Polis said, adding that 78% of COVID-19 deaths in the state involve people over age 70.
He predicted that it will take about 4-5 weeks before everyone over aged 70 who wants the vaccine will be able to get the first dose.
Polis said the state was working with different employers to work on targeted programs for essential front-line workers, educators, food workers, grocery store workers, and others including front-line journalists to form a vaccine schedule.