New COVID Variant Found For The First Time In Colorado In Mesa County

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The arid Book Cliffs dominate the view from Palisade and Grand Junction. The highest point on the iconic geologic formation is Mt. Garfield. This photo was made in October looking across freshly cut hayfields from G Road.

A coronavirus variant that was first identified in India has been discovered in Colorado for the first time.

State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy told reporters in a press briefing Thursday that five cases of the B1617.2 strain had been identified in Mesa County. None of the people had a recent travel history.

The word comes as Colorado reached the milestone of having 2 million people fully vaccinated, but also as the state is clearly facing a fourth wave of the pandemic. Hospitalizations are at 666 COVID-19 patients, the highest level since January, but still far below the big surge of hospitalizations in late fall.

Herlihy said the variant has been classified as a variant of interest, the next level down in the Centers for Disease Control from a variant of concern.

“We're trying to really learn a little bit more about this particular variant and what sort of aspects of it could potentially be more concerning,” she said. “So whether it could potentially be more transmissible or have other concerning characteristics about it.”

Herlihy said information about the variant is still “pretty limited,” and based on what is now known current COVID-19 vaccines may be effective against it.

“We know that there's a potential that this particular variant could be more transmissible, because it shares these mutations with other variants (around the globe) that are more transmissible,” she said “We also know that there's some limited data that suggests that some of the monoclonal antibody treatments could potentially be less effective for this particular variant. There's very minimal data about vaccine effectiveness. And right now it looks like minimal impact to the vaccine effectiveness with this particular variant.”

How the variant might have arrived in Colorado is a mystery. But in an era of global travel, other highly transmissible variants — like those first identified in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil — have spread broadly and also been found in Colorado.

“We, at this point, know that those individuals, none of them did travel outside of (Mesa) County. The investigation is really still ongoing at this point to try and understand other risk factors and the connections that might exist between those cases,” Herlihy said.

India has been devastated by a deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections, with millions of people infected, overwhelming its health care system.