CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The first known case of the coronavirus variant in the United States has been detected in Colorado, and an expert on internal medicine at the University of Michigan says it’s likely throughout the country by now.
“This shows that this virus has been in the United States for quite a while,” said Dr. James Baker. “This person has not traveled outside of southern Colorado and for [the COVID-19 variant] to make it all the way over to Colorado… It’s certainly throughout the United States.”
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was discovered in a male in his 20s who health officials say does not have a recent travel history. The patient is currently recovering in isolation in Elbert County, Colorado, according to Gov. Jared Polis.
While mutations of these types of viruses are common, Baker says there is a silver lining.
“These are RNA viruses so they mutate fairly frequently,” he explained. “The good news is that this virus has not mutated as rapidly in important parts the way the flu virus has.”
While the COVID-19 variant does not come with more severe symptoms, it is believed to be more infectious. Baker believes the precautions already being taken — social distancing, wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene — continue to be one of the best lines of defense as the country waits for vaccines to be more widely available.
“The reason we’re having these surges isn’t because of the variant, but because there are so many people infected with this virus,” said Baker. “It’s endemic here now. So we need to continue the actions that we’re already taking to make sure the health system doesn’t get overwhelmed.”
While the variant may be more contagious, Baker believes the vaccines already being rolled out will still be effective.
“The vaccine appears to work against this isolate, so immunizing as many people as rapidly as possible is a really important thing to do,” he said. “So in some ways we just need to redouble our efforts to be effective against this variant — as well as the regular virus.”
Baker stressed the need for doctors and health professionals to continue to reassure the public the vaccine is safe and effective.
“I think that we need to reinforce that,” he said. “We need to be open with people about the types of reactions they might have to the vaccine. But we also need to say ‘no one has died from the vaccine, and we’re losing 3,500 people a day to the infection.”