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New COVID-19 strain reported as vaccine distribution begins

text that reads "COVID-19 Update" on red background
(Graphic Illustration by Katrina Clasen | The Collegian)

A new variant of the COVID-19 virus has been reported in Colorado by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s laboratory services.

According to details released by Gov. Jared Polis in December 2020, the new variant first appeared in a member of the Colorado National Guard. The infected individual had no previous travel history and was placed in quarantine after experiencing mild symptoms. 

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Another case was later reported in a second member of the Colorado National Guard, according to CNBC

Since the first confirmed case, the total number in the state has risen to five. 

“There is a lot we don’t know about this new COVID-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious,” Polis said in a press release.

According to Dr. Christopher E. Urbina, medical director for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, virus mutation is “very common.” In an email to The Collegian, he explained that in the case of SARS-CoV-2, the typical strain of COVID-19, variation “occurs in different parts of the genetic structure of the virus, leading to changes in the protein structure and affecting the characteristics of the virus.”

The new variant, referred to as B.1.1.7, has so far been found to be more contagious than the original version but has not yet been proven to be deadlier nor more intense with regard to symptoms, Urbina wrote. 

Despite being more contagious, B.1.1.7 is not resistant to the vaccine currently being administered across the globe. Urbina explained that this is because “the current vaccines in development were likely exposed to similar variants and stimulate our own personal immunity,” making them effective against the new variant. 

So when can college students expect to receive the vaccine? 

Kori Wilford, spokesperson with LCDHE, explained in an email to The Collegian that Colorado has implemented a phased approach to vaccine rollout with the intention of reaching those with the greatest need before others who may not be as vulnerable to the virus. 

“Most young adults will be vaccinated in Phase 3, which is for anyone ages 16-59, which is anticipated to begin this summer but this depends on adequate supply coming into the state consistently over the next few months,” Wilford wrote. “Some college students may be eligible sooner depending on their jobs or whether or not they have a health condition that puts them at higher risk of becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19.” 

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Until then, Wilford and Urbina agree that Coloradans should continue to practice measures such as social distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing and avoiding large gatherings as the best way to stop the spread and prevent hospital overload. 

“We’re all tired of COVID-19 and hearing these prevention steps over and over,” Wilford wrote. “But until we can get enough people vaccinated, they continue to be the key to slowing the spread of the virus.”

Natalie Weiland can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @natgweiland.

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About the Contributors
Natalie Weiland
Natalie Weiland, News Director
Natalie Weiland is a sophomore political science student with a minor in legal studies and a fierce love of the Oxford comma. Weiland grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and served as an editor for her high school’s yearbook during her senior year. She credits the absolute chaos of the 2016 presidential election for introducing her to — and getting her hooked on — the world of politics and journalism. Her journey with The Collegian started in the fall of her freshman year when she began writing for the news desk.  In her spare time, Weiland enjoys reading and attempting to not have a heart attack every time The New York Times sends a breaking news update to her phone. She has two incredibly adorable dogs (that she will gladly show pictures of if asked) and three less-adorable siblings.  As news director, Weiland's main goal is to ensure that students trust The Collegian to cover stories that are important to and affect them, and she hopes that students are never afraid to reach out and start a conversation. Weiland is excited to see what The Collegian has in store this year and hopes to explore the campus community through reporting. 
Katrina Clasen
Katrina Clasen, Design Director
Katrina Clasen is the current design director for The Collegian and is a third-year honors student pursuing a degree in fine arts with a concentration in graphic design and a minor in creative writing. This will be her third year working on the design desk at The Collegian after starting as a page designer in 2019 and design editor in 2020. As design director, Clasen oversees and aids the operations of The Collegian's print publication and design production team. She is eager to be leading her desk as the director alongside her incredible new team of designers. As a committed advocate for providing students with opportunities to share their voices, Clasen found her love for design when creating layouts and graphic art for her high school literary and visual arts magazine, The Looking Glass. Now she volunteers her knowledge of design to multiple on-campus magazines with her most recent position being graphic designer and managing editor for CSU's Honors Program Spiritus Mundi. Working alongside industry trailblazers within The Collegian has strengthened Clasen's ambition for innovation and creativity. She works to capture the expression of complex human thought by focusing on creating meaningful experiences through design. She dreams of one day founding her own design firm for creatives to consult and create all in one place. Growing up in Fort Collins, Clasen fell in love with the outdoors and connecting with others outside. She is happiest with her life-long friend and sister Natalya Clasen, cooking and chatting the hours away.

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