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"More Contagious" COVID Just Hit This State, Says Governor

"We will closely monitor this case," said Gov. Jared Polis, "as well as all COVID-19 indicators."
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
National Park Visitor with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The first U.S. case of a COVID-19 variant that seems more easily transmissible has been identified in Colorado. The mutated virus, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, was diagnosed in a man in his 20s with no travel history, Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday. "We will closely monitor this case," said Polis, "as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely." State officials are working on contact tracing, CNN reported. Read on to see what this means for you—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

"It is a more contagious variant" of COVID-19

"An unknown travel history means that this person picked it up in the community," Dr. Atul Gawande, a Boston-based surgeon and member of the Biden-Harris transition COVID advisory board, told CNN. "We know it is a more contagious variant, and that's a serious concern if it is only just now beginning to spread, given that our hospitals and ICUs, in particular, are already being filled," said Gawande.

Nationwide, 75 percent of ICU beds are occupied as of Dec. 24, the New York Times reports. Many areas are at ICU capacity or exceed it; for example, Central and Southern California reached 0% capacity last weekend. But experts warn that even those dire figures may not show the true state of healthcare resources in the country, because many hospitals have a shortage of healthcare workers, not just beds.

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Where did the mutation come from, and what does it mean?

The virus mutation was first identified in the UK in September. According to BBC News, by November it accounted for about a quarter of cases in London; by mid-December, it was diagnosed in almost two-thirds of cases.

Researchers believe the variant isn't deadlier than the original coronavirus, but it may be easier to catch. The virus may be up to 70 percent more transmissible, according to figures cited by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but the evidence is not conclusive. BBC News says that scientists are reporting transmission rates both above and below that number. 

Because COVID-19 is an RNA virus, it can be expected to mutate frequently, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, on PBS NewsHour last week. "Most of the mutations have no functional relevance," he said. "This one has a suggestion that it might allow the virus to spread more readily. We're still seeking out evidence to prove or disapprove that. 

"But let's make an assumption that it is, in fact, making the virus more transmissible, even though it hasn't been proven yet," said Fauci. "It doesn't seem at all to have any impact on the virulence or what we call the deadliness of the virus. It doesn't make people more sick. And it doesn't seem to have any impact on the protective nature of the vaccines that we're currently using."

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How to survive this pandemic

As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.