South African Variant Of Virus Detected In Colorado Prison

Three cases of B.1.351 were found in the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, the state’s first three detected cases of that COVID-19 variant.

The CDPHE Lab reported the first three cases of the COVID-19 variant known as B.1.351 have been detected at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex. (Shutterstock )

Across Colorado —The Colorado State Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Laboratory reported Sunday that the state’s first three cases of the COVID-19 variant known as B.1.351 have been detected at the Colorado Department of Corrections Buena Vista Correctional Complex (BVCC).

Two staff members and one prisoner tested positive for the variant, which first was identified in early October 2020 in South Africa. Research shows the B.1.351 variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants. Vaccines are considered effective against B.1.351, though perhaps to a lesser degree than against other variants.

The CDPHE said the positive samples at the BVCC originally were chosen at random for sequencing as part of ongoing variant surveillance analysis. But the CDPHE Lab now will sequence all positive specimens from the correctional facility to look for variants.All people at the facility exposed to the variant are required to complete a 14-day quarantine.

The CDPHE has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the discovery of B.1.351. As of Monday morning, there had been 81 cases of the B.1.351 variant in 20 jurisdictions across the U.S., according to the CDC.

In a statement Sunday, the CDPHE said it would be at the Buena Vista complex on Monday, performing PCR testing and providing vaccines for staff and inmates at the facility. Later in the week, the CDPHE also will host a clinic to vaccinate family members and close contacts of staff.

According to CDPHE, these quickly-scheduled vaccination clinics are in line with a policy the agency communicated to local public health agencies in late January.

“Local public health has additional flexibility to vary from the prioritization for sub-populations with the vaccine supply allocated to them for emerging risk of rapid spread of COVID-19 (e.g. variant transmission), as identified by local public in consultation with the CDPHE,” the CDPHE wrote on Jan. 29.

The CDPHE also said it is working closely with Chaffee County Public Health to investigate the latest outbreak and provide additional community testing in Chaffee County.

The CDC has described a COVID-19 variant of concern (VOC) as one that spreads more easily, causes more severe disease, reduces effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or is harder to detect using current tests. This past winter, Colorado health officials found local cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was originally discovered in the United Kingdom.

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