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One, and possibly two instances of a new COVID-19 variant have been identified in Colorado.

An Elbert County resident in his 20s earlier became the first person to test positive in Colorado for a variant of the COVID-19 virus; thought to be a much more contagious strain of the disease.

Microscopic view of COVID-19 virus. Image

The unidentified man is reportedly in isolation, but Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officials said he apparently had no travel history, meaning he probably caught the infection from someone else who was infected with the variant, constituting community spread of the virus.

State health department officials said they are performing a “thorough investigation” and that the man is recovering in isolation. Some health officials said they suspected the new variant was probably already in the state, as well as other areas.

CNN later reported a second possible case with the variant, and health officials have identified a link between the two men – both worked at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, located northeast of Colorado Springs.

At least two residents, a 93-year-old man and an 88-year-old woman died as a result of the outbreak there and a third death is still under investigation. About 25 residents are at the facility. The state health department has deployed a rapid response team to Good Samaritan to test residents and staff.

The “two individuals were working at the facility in non-clinical roles,” and “were working at the facility due to staffing shortages from a prior COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, so they were not regular staff,” Smith said.

“There is a lot we don’t know about this new COVID-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a Wednesday update. “The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority, and we will closely monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely,” Polis added.

The CDPHE said its lab was the first in the country to identify the variant, which has caused concern in the United Kingdom (where it was first identified) because it is believed to spread more freely, though it does not cause more serious symptoms.

CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said the discovery “is a testament to the sophistication of Colorado’s response and the talent of CDPHE’s scientists and lab operations. We are currently using all the tools available to protect public health and mitigate the spread of this variant.”