Colorado Governor Jared Polis said Wednesday that it's not clear how a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus entered his state. On Tuesday, Colorado became the first state to report a case of the COVID-19 variant, and officials said Wednesday that a second case is suspected.
Both the confirmed case and the suspected case are members of the National Guard working at a nursing home outside of Denver. Both men were sent to the nursing home on December 23, and are now in isolation. Health officials said neither of the men traveled internationally in recent weeks.
Polis told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca that given the timeline of the men's work with the nursing home, "it seems unlikely" they contracted the variant there. Polis added that the men tested positive a day or two after arriving at the home, making it more likely that they had contracted the virus elsewhere — but he noted that "we simply don't know," and expressed hope that the men did not transmit the variant to residents at the home.
Polis held a news conference earlier Wednesday, a day after the Colorado State Laboratory confirmed a case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. and informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies suggest that this strain of the virus is more highly transmissible, although health officials believe current COVID-19 vaccines should still work to protect against it.
A Colorado health official who appeared with Polis at the news conference said the new variant appears capable of spreading from person to person more quickly, but does not appear to be more deadly.
Health officials are uncertain exactly why this particular strain is more infectious, although they believe it may require fewer particles of the virus for a person to become more sick.
Polis said the goal is to vaccinate those in nursing homes as quickly as possible. He's also requesting permission from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to have Colorado nursing homes stop allowing visitors. The governor said Coloradans ages 70 and older will be able to begin getting their vaccines this week.
Polis and his partner tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
Caitlin Yilek contributed to this report.