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A Boulder resident has tested positive for the new, highly contagious variant of the coronavirus, bringing Colorado’s total to five confirmed cases.
The new variant — called B.1.1.7 — was discovered in Colorado for the first time two weeks ago. The fifth case was confirmed in a person in their 20s, the state Department of Public Health and Environment announced Wednesday.
The new variant, first discovered in the U.K., is believed to be 50% more contagious than previous strains, but is not believed to be any more severe in terms of symptoms. Public health experts are concerned that it could lead to a new surge in cases.
The state health department has said it believes that Pfize’s and Moderna’s vaccines will protect against the new variant. Coloradans are encouraged to keep washing their hands, wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart and avoiding gatherings.
Testing for the variant is more difficult because the United States lacks the infrastructure needed, experts say. The new variant is identified when a sample tests positive for the coronavirus but does not have the signal for the “S gene.” When that occurs, lab workers then have to sequence the viral genome.
Colorado’s state lab, the first to identify the new strain in the U.S., is doing between 5% and 10% of coronavirus tests in the state. The health department has expanded its testing for the new variant by having hospitals send specimens to the state lab.
The state’s fifth case was discovered via a private lab and then confirmed by the sate lab, according to the Department of Public Health and Environment.