B.1.351 variant detected in Colorado
Colorado State Public Health Laboratory has detected 3 cases of the B.1.351 variant in Colorado. This variant was first identified in South Africa. This is the first detection of B.1.351 in Colorado, but to date 68 cases have been identified across 17 jurisdictions in the U.S. The 3 cases - 2 among staff and one person who is incarcerated -- are at the Colorado Department of Corrections Buena Vista Correctional Complex (BVCC). These samples were chosen at random for sequencing as part of ongoing variant surveillance analysis.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory will sequence all positive specimens from this facility to look for variants. CDPHE has notified CDC that Colorado has detected B.1.351. All exposed persons at BVCC will be required to complete a 14-day quarantine. CDPHE is actively investigating an outbreak at this facility.
Given that BVCC had a current outbreak, inmates were tested weekly from October 19 to February 3. Beginning on February 22, the facility began weekly testing again for the incarcerated population and has been continuing the weekly testing since that time.
Testing has been one of the most important tools for the Department of Corrections during the course of this pandemic. The Department began doing broader PCR testing in April of 2020 at the start of the pandemic, and staff members are still tested weekly using the PCR test. All DOC staff who work in a facility have been screened daily using the BinaxNOW COVID-19 rapid antigen test since early November of 2020.
Inmates have also been regularly tested throughout the course of the pandemic using the PCR test when an inmate demonstrates symptoms, is exposed to someone who has tested positive, and during the course of surveillance testing when an outbreak occurs. More than 175,000 PCR tests for the inmate population have been conducted to date. The results of those tests have allowed CDOC to properly cohort, quarantine and monitor inmates in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. Given the regular and robust testing protocols in place, CDOC has been able to quickly catch positive cases, including asymptomatic cases.
To mitigate the current outbreak, a CDPHE testing team will be at the facility tomorrow to perform PCR testing and to host a vaccine clinic for staff and inmates at the facility. Later this week, CDPHE will also host a vaccination clinic for family members and close contacts of staff. This is in line with a policy CDPHE communicated to local public health agencies on January 29 that stated, “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 CDPHE.” CDOC is also in line with the state plan regarding vaccinations and has vaccinated 2,587 staff members and 664 inmates so far.
The U.S. Senate voted to pass the COVID Relief Package which would give Americans making less than $70K a year $1400 per person. The package was voted along party lines with a 50-49 win. The package is set to head back to the House for changes before making its way to President Joseph R. Biden’s desk for final approval. Checks are expected to start going out before the end of March.
Governor Polis extended an Executive Order redirecting underutilized resources to nursing facilities and selected Home and Community-Based Services through March 31, 2021, to help providers address the impacts of the pandemic, including severe staff shortages and substantial reductions in the use of these services due to COVID-19 in Colorado.
Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced the ordinance-prescribed screening committee to undertake the interview and evaluation process to select candidates to be Denver’s next Independent Monitor.
“This committee, made up of respected voices in this field, will bring a diverse perspective to finding the next Independent Monitor for our city who will build on the foundations that have made this office a national leader in this work,” Mayor Hancock said. “Finding a dynamic leader who will help to reinforce transparency, accountability and public confidence in our safety departments has never been more critical, but I have every confidence they will find that leader.”