California COVID-19 variant found in Routt County
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The COVID-19 variant that has increasingly been found in California has been discovered in Routt County, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Variant L452R, which was first seen in Denmark in March 2020, is not common in the U.S., except for California, where roughly 45% of current samples are showing this mutation, according to The New York Times variant tracker.
Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer, said he is not concerned at this time about the variant being found in the county and the public shouldn’t be either.
“I almost wish you weren’t putting anything in the paper, because I don’t know that it means anything yet,” Harrington said. “I would want to caution the community to not overreact to this report or interpret more concern than we necessarily need to have.”
While it is possible mutations in the L452R variant will give it an advantage when spreading, that has not yet been proven in experiments, according to the variant tracker.
“L452R is a variant under investigation, which is to say that the public health significance of the variant is still under investigation,” Routt County epidemiologist Nicole Harty said in a statement.
Harrington said he believes the classification is apt, because there is simply not enough known about this variant yet.
“The bottom line is we can’t and won’t do anything different locally just because of this one instance of this one variant of undetermined clinical significance,” Harrington said.
Viruses are constantly changing, so variants are common. When they become concerning, Harty said, is when they lead to more spread of the virus, cannot be detected by current tests or treatments become less effective.
When talking about variants, Harrington said it is important to qualify them, because each one is different and they can have a variety of outcomes. Harrington said while it is possible there are other variants in Routt County, he doesn’t expect there are many of them.
“At this time, there is no reason to believe the presence of this variant in Routt County is related to the Routt County case counts or our current epidemiological curve,” Harty said.
State health officials detected the variant in a Routt County resident through their surveillance program. They will lead the investigation and contact tracing for this case in partnership with Routt County Public Health.
This is one of two variants found in Colorado. The B.1.1.7 variant, which was first found in the United Kingdom, was found in members of the Colorado National Guard in late December.
B.1.1.7 is classified as a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has been detected in 33 states and more than 70 countries. A variant is considered a variant of concern when it spreads more easily, causes more severe disease, reduces effectiveness of treatments or vaccine or is harder to detect with current testing.
The B.1.1.7 variant has more efficient and rapid transmission than other variants of the virus, according to CDC.
All positive COVID-19 PCR tests processed at the state lab, about 10% to 15% of tests statewide, are checked for the B.1.1.7 variant and other labs in the state are starting to check as well. In all, about 30% of tests in Colorado are checked for the B.1.1.7 variant.
Because of this testing, Harrington said that if the B.1.1.7 variant was in the county, it likely would have been detected. The ability to detect other variants is more limited. CDPHE does a viral genomic sequencing on about 3% of positive tests statewide checking for other variants of the virus like L452R.
“I think we need to be careful about getting too worked up about it, but I acknowledge that there are some concerns that some of these variants may pose,” Harrington said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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