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1st American diagnosed with highly infectious COVID-19 variant is member of Colorado National Guard

A second member of the six-person National Guard contingent dispatched to the Good Samaritan Society facility in the town of Simla is also suspected of having contracted the variant.
/ Source: NBC News

The first confirmed case in the United States of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant that made its debut in the United Kingdom is a member of the Colorado National Guard who was deployed to a nursing home dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, state officials revealed Wednesday.

A second member of the six-person National Guard contingent dispatched to the Good Samaritan Society facility in the town of Simla is also suspected of having contracted the variant, Colorado state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a virtual update.

“We have one confirmed and one possible case of the variant in the state,” she said. “And we have deployed a team to the facility.”

They were part of a contingent of six members of the National Guard who arrived Dec. 23 at the facility about 45 miles northeast of Colorado Springs, Herlihy said. Their infections were discovered after they were tested Christmas Eve.

“In Simla, they were deployed to help deal with staff shortages after an outbreak that affected 100 percent of the residents in the facility,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said.

Now both patients, neither of whom live in Simla, are in isolation as contact tracers are trying to determine where, when and how they got infected with the variant, Herlihy said.

Neither patient, who were both identified earlier as men by Elbert County Health Director Dwayne Smith, have a recent history of traveling outside the country, Herlihy said.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that the COVID-19 variant has been detected somewhere in Southern California.

The mutation detected in Colorado and California has also been identified in more than a dozen countries, including France, Denmark, Japan, South Korea and Canada.

But because there is no widespread effort in the U.S. to conduct regular genome sequencing of samples from across the country, it's likely that the variant is already spreading here, Dr. Diane Griffin, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News on Tuesday.

The silver lining? The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines for COVID-19 should be effective against the new variant.

"Our working assumption from all the scientists is that the vaccine response should be adequate for this virus," Patrick Vallance, the U.K. government's chief scientific adviser, said earlier this month.

Nearly 19.7 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic and the virus has claimed more than 341,000 lives, according to the latest NBC News data.

Housed in what was once a local hospital and home to about 25 residents, the Good Samaritan Society facility in Simla is in the midst of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases and so far there have been two confirmed coronavirus fatalities, a 93-year-old man and an 88-year-old woman, officials have said.

The facility caters mostly to people from the eastern plains of Colorado and got a top rating in 2009 in a U.S. News & World Report survey of 15,500 of the nation's nursing homes.

But in May, state health department inspectors noted that the facility “failed to establish and maintain an infection control program,” although it rated the potential level of harm to residents as minimal.

And in an unrelated case in November, the facility and its administrators were accused in a civil lawsuit of negligence in connection with the death of a 74-year-old resident who wandered off in her motorized wheelchair and tipped over into a nearby drainage ditch.

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