Colorado reported its first two cases of a COVID-19 variant that has proven adept at re-infecting people who already had the virus.
The P.1 variant was first found in Brazil and pushed that country’s healthcare system to the limit, even in areas where many people had already had the virus and were thought to be immune. Other countries in South America are also struggling with new waves of the virus, driven largely by P.1.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified Colorado that two Boulder County residents tested positive for the P.1 variant. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Tuesday it is investigating whether they had traveled to other countries or states where the variant is spreading and trying to find people who may have been exposed. The state health department did not say if the two people lived in the same home or if they had symptoms.
The CDC has reported 289 cases of P.1 in 25 states. Research from Brazil suggests that the variant is more contagious and possibly more deadly, although that’s not certain.
Colorado selects a sample of all positive COVID-19 tests for full genetic sequencing. While sampling can give a clue as to which variants are circulating and how widespread they are, it cannot tell health officials exactly how many cases there are in the community.
So far, Colorado has found 1,268 cases related to “worrisome variants” – versions of the virus that are more contagious, cause more serious illness, or are more difficult for the immune system to identify and destroy. Most are caused by variants first identified in California and the United Kingdom, which are more contagious than the version that first landed in Colorado.
The state also found a cluster of cases in the Buena Vista Correctional Complex caused by a variant first identified in South Africa. This variant, like P.1, is more difficult for the immune system to identify and can increase the risk of reinfection.
A preliminary study from the University of Oxford suggests that available vaccines still provide good protection against P.1.
The state health department urged Coloradans to continue wearing masks and social distancing, which can reduce the spread of all known variants, and said they are “our best tools to prevent the spread of this virus, without import the strain “.