COVID

A new COVID variant has been identified in two Coloradans, federal officials told the state this week, adding another wrinkle to the state's push to loosen its public health measures.

Both of the newly identified cases are residents of Boulder County, according to a state press release. The P.1 variant, as it's been dubbed, was first identified in four people traveling from Brazil to Japan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It, along with other variants, has been identified in recent months. Research from Brazil indicates this new variant is more transmissible than the standard strain. What's more, the spike in cases in that country was likely propelled by the introduction of the new variant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the new variant case, according to a release from the Department of Public Health and Environment sent Tuesday afternoon. The state agency is investigating the two cases for potential contacts and exposures.

COVID positivity rate hits highest mark since January as state slogs through pandemic plateau

"This is the first detection of P.1 in the state, but to date 289 cases have been identified across 25 jurisdictions in the U.S." the agency wrote.

Several other variants have been identified in Colorado. In particular, the state's confirmed cases of variants first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and California. All are designated "variants of concern," meaning that they have the potentially to spike numbers and strain health systems. The state's identified 1,268 concerning variant cases as of Monday afternoon.

State modeling has indicated that a spike of variant cases could derail the state's COVID response, which is slowly unwinding, and it could lead to more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths. One health official, state medical officer Eric France, said last month that roughly 30% of the state's COVID cases were caused by the variant. 

In its release, the state health department urged Coloradans to continue to wear masks and socially distance. But the state has stepped back from both of those requirements and is preparing to delegate them to local entities almost completely.