COLORADO, USA — State leaders say anyone who gets COVID-19 in Colorado right now has a pretty good chance of contracting a mutated version of the virus.
“If you contract COVID-19 today, it’s is more likely that you are exposed and have contracted a variant strain,” said Governor Jared Polis during a press conference on Tuesday.
“About half the specimens we're testing weekly are the B.1.1.7 variant,” he said, referencing the strain first discovered in the U.K.
Testing for COVID is a different process from determining whether each case is a variant. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) says the state lab is currently conducting genome sequencing on about 7% of positive COVID-19 tests to determine if they are variant cases.
CDPHE says if a variant is found, both state and local public health agencies are also notified. For those cases determined to be one of the four strains identified in Colorado, the state is tracking the type of variant and county where the case was found.
“The important part of tracking variants is to understand what variants are circulating, which ones are taking over. We know that this happens, all these viruses do this. Eventually, a variant takes over, it's called a ‘replacement strain,” said Dr. David Beckham, an infectious disease physician and virologist for UCHealth.
“So the important thing to do is, from an epidemiological and scientific standpoint, is understand what is your replacement strain in your region and does that replacement strain – is it still susceptible to treatment, therapies, vaccines, those kinds of things.”
Dr. Beckham said COVID-19 patients and their doctors often do not know whether their case is a variant strain or not, and for the most part healthcare providers are still treating COVID-19 patients with the same therapies. But there are some changes due to the variants circulating in the community.
“We stopped using some of the therapies we were using even 3-4 months ago because we just assume these patients have one of these variants,” Dr. Beckham said.
He gave one example of a change, saying doctors found the variants are more resistant to some monoclonal antibodies like Bamlanivimab (sometimes called “bam bam” by doctors, for short).
“Now we’re using monoclonal antibody cocktails if we’re going to use them as a treatment,” he explained. “We want to have multiple different antibodies, that way they retain activity even against new variants.”
Healthcare experts have been worried about how well the vaccines can protect people from new variant strains, too.
“The thing that’s been really encouraging,” Dr. Beckham said, “How quickly and how effective the vaccines are. They’ve worked against the original strain, they’ve worked against the variants, and I think they’re going to get us out of this.”
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