Spotlight shines on small Colorado town after first U.S. case of COVID-19 variant

Coronavirus

SIMLA, Colo. (KDVR) — The small ranching community of Simla on Colorado’s Eastern Plains is making national headlines after the first case of COVID-19 variant B-1.1.7 was detected

Health experts say this particular strain of COVID-19 is 50-70% more contagious but no more deadly than the strain that has been circulating since the beginning of the pandemic. It has been spreading rapidly throughout the United Kingdom since September. 

“At this time we are aware of one confirmed and one possible case of the B 1.1.7 variant of the virus,” Colorado’s state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said at a press conference Wednesday. 

Colorado’s positive and probable cases are the first to be detected in the United States. 

“I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize it was here,'” Simla resident Jodi Wright told FOX31. 

Simla is a very small town of about 600 people located southwest of Limon. 

According to Elbert County Public Health Director Dwayne Smith, the positive and suspected positive variant cases are each individuals with the Colorado National Guard who had been deployed to Simla to help fill staffing gaps at Good Samaritan Society nursing home. 

Both men reported no recent travel history. It is possible they contracted the virus at the nursing home or elsewhere in the community. 

“The nursing home has had an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. Cases of COVID-19 were first identified in the facility in mid-December following routine surveillance in that facility,” Herlihy said. 

All 26 residents had already contracted COVID-19 prior to the National Guardsmen entering the facility. 

Four residents have died since Dec. 14. Twenty of the 34 employees at the facility have tested positive.

“I know the news wants to hear ‘it’s been horrible,’ but it really isn’t. They really have been on it. They’ve been taking care of it,” Wright said of the nursing home. 

Still, state health officials are conducting a thorough investigation and contact tracing to figure out if this more contagious strain is spreading through Simla or other areas the Guardsmen may have been. 

“To determine if the B-1.1.7 variant is circulating in the facility beyond these two individuals that work for the National Guard, we have deployed teams to the facility…to collect specimens from staff and residents in that facility,” Herlihy said. 

So far, state testing of Good Samaritan Society residents and staff have shown no further cases of COVID-19 with the B-1.1.7 variant. 

While health officials continue to be cautious about a wave of new positive cases, in Simla, residents say it is business as usual despite the extra attention on their small town. 

“Everybody knows that it’s real. Everybody knows the threat. Everybody’s being careful,” Wright said. 

FOX31 contacted Elbert County public health officials and Good Samaritan Society for comment but did not receive a response. 

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