The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has found two variant strains of the coronavirus causing COVID-19 within its reservation boundaries.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and different variants of the novel coronavirus have begun to appear around the world. Researchers are still studying these slightly altered strains for changes in their infectivity, impact on COVID-19 disease severity and treatment effectiveness.
As of Tuesday, La Plata County reported three total cases of a variant first discovered in the United Kingdom. Two of those cases were identified within the reservation, according to San Juan Basin Public Health and a Southern Ute news release March 12.
“The origin of the variant is still under investigation,” said the tribe in a news release issued March 12. “There is little known about the variant at this time, but variants become a concern when they lead to an increase in disease transmission or severity, when they cannot be detected by current diagnostic tests or when they reduce the effectiveness of treatments or vaccines.”
The county reported one case of the variant first discovered in California, called B.1.427/429, as of Tuesday. That case was also identified within reservation boundaries.
The U.K. variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In January, experts in the U.K. reported this variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared with other variants, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding, the CDC said.
There is no evidence to suggest decreased vaccine effectiveness against the variant, the tribe’s news release said.
The CDC is investigating the California variant to determine the infectivity of it, according to SJBPH.
“The Tribal Council and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Incident Management Team issued and continue to maintain the public health orders taking the utmost caution to protect the tribal community,” the tribe’s release said.
The U.K. variant is spreading through Colorado at a higher rate than most states, aside from Florida, Michigan and California, according to the CDC. The state has 303 cases, according to CDC records Tuesday. The CDC did not report case numbers for the California variant.
The state public health laboratory identified the variant cases on the Southern Ute reservation after sequencing the laboratory sample from a person who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, the tribe’s news release said.
The tribe is working with SJBPH and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on the investigation.
CDPHE is taking the lead on the investigation, including contact tracing, interviews and reinterviews, and monitoring in close collaboration with the tribe and SJBPH.
Other variants of the coronavirus have been recorded in Brazil, South Africa and New York City.