Colorado public health officials announced Sunday night that a concerning new coronavirus variant had been detected in the state for the first time.
Staff of the Colorado State Public Health Laboratory detected three cases of the variant — known as B.1.351 and first discovered in South Africa in October 2020 — at the state’s Buena Vista Correctional Complex. Two of the cases were among staff at the facility and the third was an inmate. The cases were detected as part of Colorado’s variant surveillance efforts, and inmates were being tested as part of a response to a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
The new variant is potentially more dangerous than the dominant coronavirus strain in Colorado. “B.1.351 is a variant of concern because it spreads more easily and quickly than other variants, and vaccines may be less effective against this variant,” said a press release from the Colorado State Joint Information Center. The variant has been identified so far in 68 cases in the United States.
A team from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is due to visit the Buena Vista facility Monday to conduct testing and lead a vaccine clinic for staff and inmates. A vaccination clinic will be offered later in the week for family members and close contacts of staff, according to a press release.
The Colorado Department of Corrections so far has vaccinated 2,587 staff and 664 inmates. Correctional and detention facilities like jails and prisons have seen many COVID-19 outbreaks. As of February such outbreaks accounted for 1 in every 24 COVID-19 cases in the state, and 15 of the 20 largest outbreaks, according to an analysis by the Colorado Health Institute.
State public health officials advised in the press release that Coloradans should continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing, wash their hands frequently, and accept a coronavirus vaccine when it’s available to them.
Just a week ago, Gov. Jared Polis during an optimistic news briefing announced that the state had met its goal of vaccinating 70% of Coloradans 70 and older, and he referred to the state being in “the final months of the pandemic.”