The United States' first confirmed case of a new, highly transmissible COVID-19 variant recently announced by officials in the United Kingdom — as well as a second potential case — are members of the Colorado National Guard who were deployed to a nursing home in Simla, state officials said Dec. 30.
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When the Good Samaritan House in Simla suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-December, nearly every one of the 26 residents tested positive, as well as 20 to 34 staff members.
The virus was reportedly introduced to the nursing home facility after the Dec. 10 admittance of a new resident, who initially tested negative but later tested positive. With most of the staff members quarantined, relief arrived when the National Guard was called in to help with administrative and orderly duties.
Four residents died during the outbreak, but others began to recover, and just when it seemed that life at the facility would begin returning to normal, Elbert County was thrust into the national spotlight, after it was determined that one of the three National Guardsmen deployed to help had tested positive for the latest variant of COVID B.1.1.7, the first confirmed case in the United States.
“Preliminary results don't show any results of the variant at the Good Samaritan,” said Elbert County Commissioner Chris Richardson. “The gentleman who tested positive came in on the 23rd to help out because they had so many staff members who were ill. They get tested every two days, and the test on the 24th resulted in a positive test, which was later determined to be the UK variant.”
Richardson said all outbreaks are handled by the state of Colorado, and it's unlikely the National Guard troops contracted the virus from somebody at Good Samaritan, based on the testing dates.
“The identification of an individual who was working in the county for a short period of time with a variant was very surprising,” said Richardson. “But overall our county numbers have been improving dramatically over the weeks and continue to improve. We will continue to work with the state, and this new variant case doesn't really change much for what we've been doing on the county level.”
— Tabatha Stewart
The United States' first confirmed case of a new, highly transmissible COVID-19 variant recently announced by officials in the United Kingdom — as well as a second potential case — are members of the Colorado National Guard who were deployed to a nursing home in Simla, state officials said Dec. 30. Simla is a rural town of fewer than 1,000 people in south-central Elbert County.
Both were sent Dec. 23 to aid the Good Samaritan Society nursing home, about an hour outside of Colorado Springs, where an outbreak was underway, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, an epidemiologist with the state health department, at a Dec. 30 press conference on the state's virus response. They were tested on Christmas Eve.
Six National Guard personnel were deployed to the facility to assist with testing, and two have since tested positive for COVID-19: the individual with the variant, and the other individual suspected of having it, she said, adding that it's possible that the preexisting outbreak and new case of the variant are not connected, and that the positive Guardsman contracted the variant in the community, outside the facility.
There is currently no evidence that the variant is now circulating at the nursing home, she added, but said additional testing is underway.
The potential case has not yet been confirmed because genome sequencing is still underway, said Dr. Emily Travanty, scientific director of the laboratory services division at the state health department. The signal is weaker in the sample in question, making confirmation more difficult. The work should be completed within the next week, she added.
The country's — and the state's — first case is a man in his 20s, with no travel history and no close contacts yet identified, state officials said Dec. 29. He has mild symptoms and remains in isolation, Gov. Jared Polis said at the Dec. 30 press conference.
That variant identified in the case, known as B.1.1.7, is the same one discovered in Europe this month. It triggered alarm when announced by Britain’s prime minister and caused dozens of countries to ban flights from the United Kingdom, as well as strict lockdown measures in southern England. It appears to be 70% more transmissible than the dominant strain of COVID-19, Colorado officials said last week.
The variant "very likely exists in many states," Polis said, particularly in the mid-Atlantic area, where there are high rates of travel to and from the U.K.
Additionally, all Coloradans 70 and older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting this week, Polis said as he announced that the state was entering Phase 1B of its vaccination plan.
Many areas of the state are entering the phase, Polis said, adding that nearly 80% of COVID deaths are among those 70 and older.
It will likely be four or five weeks before everyone 70 and older who wants the vaccine will have received their first dose, he said.
Phase 1B had included moderate-risk health care workers with less direct contact with COVID patients, such as home health, hospice and dental workers, as well as emergency services personnel, firefighters, police, correctional workers and those in funeral services.
As of Dec. 30, that category was amended to include "frontline essential workers" in education, food, agriculture, manufacturing, public transit, grocery and public health, among other categories, as well as direct care providers for Coloradans experiencing homelessness, and some frontline journalists, in addition to those 70 and older.
Workers who qualify under Phase 1B will likely be vaccinated at site-based clinics in the coming weeks, Polis said. As to when Coloradans 70 and older can receive the vaccine, it will depend on the supply in their area, he said.
Individuals in Phase 2 — including those at high risk due to medical conditions and those ages 65-69 — will likely be vaccinated in late spring or early summer, he said, adding that a doctor's note would be required for those with a medical condition. The rest of the population — including those ages 12 and up, not 16 and up — are likely to be vaccinated this summer, he added.
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