Student who had contact with COVID-19 variant case causes 35 to quarantine at Steamboat Middle School

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Thirty-five students at Steamboat Springs Middle School are in quarantine after a student at the school was identified as a close contact to a case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant.

“The variant case is not in the school; this is just someone with an epidemiological linkage to a variant case,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist. “Through the investigation and contact tracing process of that (variant) case, that is how we found this student.”

The student has not tested positive for the variant or for COVID-19 at this time. Harty said there is no cause for concern because of the case or the connection to the school.

“We knew this was going to happen; we have known that variants have been circulating for a while,” Harty said. “When we have this new strain that is known to be in our community, and we have an opportunity to truly prevent increased spread, that is a good thing.”

Two variants of concern have been found in Routt County so far. There have been four cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first reported in the United Kingdom, and four cases of the B.1.427/429, first predominantly seen in California, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last updated Tuesday afternoon.

The B.1.1.7 variant has been shown to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In January, U.K. health officials reported the variant may lead to more severe cases of the virus, but the CDC said more studies are needed to confirm that finding.

“There is a risk of more exponential spread with a variant that is more transmissible, and we have an opportunity to hopefully prevent more transmissible variants from taking hold in our community,” Harty said.

Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks said he was not led to believe this situation is more profound than any of the other quarantines the school has been dealing with since returning last fall.

“Although we have made much progress over the past year, we aren’t out of the pandemic yet, and all of us still need to keep ourselves and others safe by following protocols,“ Meeks said.

Sixteen students have been identified as a close contact with the student and will need to quarantine for the full 14 days. Another 19 students also are quarantined, but school officials are still determining whether they were indeed close contacts with the student.

All staff in close contact with the student had been vaccinated and are not required to quarantine, Meeks said.

Because a variant is involved, different quarantine procedures are being followed. In previous cases, close contacts would be quarantined for 10 days, but a negative COVID-19 test could get them out after just seven days. In this case, all close contacts will need to quarantine for 14 days.

Routt County Public Health is working with CDPHE to make testing available for these quarantined students. Harty said this is important because, to do additional variant surveillance, the test taken needs to be a PCR test and must be sent to the state lab. A message sent to parents Monday said this testing would likely happen Thursday.

“We are stepping in to sort of expedite that process and, hopefully, get those samples sent directly to the state lab,” Harty said. “This isn’t the first variant we have had in the county, and there are more. We just don’t know about all of them.”

The precautions taken throughout the pandemic — wearing masks, washing hands and getting tested when sick, among other things — are the same things public health officials recommend doing to prevent the spread of the variants.

“I have talked about this tug of war between variants and vaccines — we are still in it,” Harty said. “Public health is fighting hard to not let variants win.”

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Monday showed both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reduced the risk of infection two weeks after complete vaccination by 90%. Two weeks after the first dose, vaccines were still shown to reduce transmission by 80%.

The study was conducted from Dec. 14, 2020, to March 13, when COVID-19 variants have been circulating in Colorado and the United States. While many have feared variants may skirt the effects of the vaccines, this study does not validate those concerns, instead showing the vaccines to be highly effective in a real world setting.

Subjects in the trial were frontline health care workers who had greater chances of being exposed to the virus. They self-collected swabs whether they were showing symptoms or not, and the study shows vaccines reduce all infections, not just symptomatic cases.

“The study shows that our national vaccination efforts are working,” said Dr. Rochelle Walenski, CDC director, in a statement on Monday. “These findings should offer hope to the millions of Americans receiving COVID-19 vaccines each day, and those who will have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated in the weeks ahead.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.