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Dec 29, 2020
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TOPLINE A new, highly contagious coronavirus variant that was first identified in Britain has reached the United States, officials in Colorado confirmed Tuesday, reporting the first known U.S. case of the strain more than two weeks after it was discovered — a worrying development as Covid-19 infections and deaths climb nationwide.

The variant was discovered in a man in his 20s who lives in Elbert County, a rural area near Denver, Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.

The man has no travel history, Polis said, placing him at odds with many other patients in Europe who appeared to contract the variant while traveling in the United Kingdom.

State officials have not identified any close contacts, and the man is self-isolating.

Researchers believe this new coronavirus variant — which U.K. officials disclosed earlier this month — is about 56% more contagious than other versions of the virus, an alarming figure even though it doesn’t appear to lead to deadlier infections. As of last week, the variant was already responsible for the majority of London’s Covid-19 infections, and officials have partly blamed it for a recent spike in U.K. Covid-19 cases that has forced much of the country back into strict lockdowns. Dozens of countries have banned or restricted travel from the United Kingdom in response, including the United States, which began requiring all U.K. travelers to show a negative coronavirus test before flying to the U.S. this week.

Most infectious disease experts aren’t surprised to see the new variant arrive in the United States. Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News it’s “certainly possible” the mutation was already present in the country. But experts fear a more transmissible form of Covid-19 could make controlling the virus’ spread even more difficult, adding to an already-dire surge in cases throughout the United States.

“There are going to be a greater number of sicker people, because more people are going to be acquiring [Covid-19],” Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, a California-based internal medicine and viral expert, told CNN on Tuesday afternoon.

The Covid-19 vaccines that are being distributed throughout the United States are likely still effective against this new variant, pharmaceutical companies say, though researchers are conducting tests to confirm the vaccines offer immunity.

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