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Two states, California and Colorado, confirm cases of Covid-19 variant first found in U.K.

In other coronavirus news: Oxford vaccine gets approved, and American expats in Wuhan, China, fret over surging crisis back home.
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Two states, Colorado and California, have confirmed cases of a highly contagious Covid-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

Officials announced Wednesday that the strain was found in a San Diego patient, hours after Colorado officials revealed that the first confirmed case in the U.S. is a member of the state National Guard.

"I'm not surprised that you have a case, and likely more cases, in California," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told Gov. Gavin Newsom in a video call after the announcement. "We likely will be seeing reports from other states."

The patient in California with the variant, sometimes called strain B.1.1.7, is a San Diego man with no travel history outside of the U.S. who developed symptoms on Sunday and was tested Tuesday, San Diego County health officials said. He was isolated but not hospitalized.

The variant is believed to be more transmissible, "but there's no indication at all that it increases the virulence — and by virulence I mean the ability to make you sick or kill you," Fauci said.

The member of the Colorado National Guard found with the strain had been deployed to a nursing home dealing with a coronavirus outbreak.

A second member of the six-person National Guard contingent dispatched to the Good Samaritan Society facility in the town of Simla is also suspected of having contracted the variant, Colorado state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a virtual update.

“We have one confirmed and one possible case of the variant in the state,” she said. “And we have deployed a team to the facility.”

They were part of a contingent of six members of the National Guard who arrived Dec. 23 at the facility about 45 miles northeast of Colorado Springs, Herlihy said. Their infections were discovered after they were tested Christmas Eve.

“In Simla, they were deployed to help deal with staff shortages after an outbreak that affected 100 percent of the residents in the facility,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said.

Now both patients, neither of whom live in Simla, are in isolation as contact tracers are trying to determine where, when and how they got infected with the variant, Herlihy said.

Neither patient, who were both identified earlier as men by Elbert County Health Director Dwayne Smith, have a recent history of traveling outside the country, Herlihy said.

In other coronavirus news:

  • The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed put the blame on everything from snowstorms to general inexperience for the slower-than-expected rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.
  • A new Covid-19 vaccine made by British drugmaker AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University has received regulatory approval in the United Kingdom.
  • Americans in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first Covid-19 cases were detected, told NBC News they're more frightened by how the pandemic is spreading back home in the U.S.
  • A reveler at a New York City Republican holiday bash that became infamous after a viral video showed maskless partygoers dancing in a conga line has come down with a case of Covid-19. "I wasn't on the conga line. I ate by myself," James Trent, chair of the affiliated Queens Village Republican Club, told The Queens Daily Eagle. "I don't know how I got this.
  • Two New Mexico megachurches were hit with stiff fines for violating the state's pandemic protocols.
  • Stay-at-home orders have been extended in California amid a surge in new coronavirus cases and deaths.
  • Most Hollywood productions will remain on hiatus until the middle of January because of a spike in Covid-19 cases in Los Angeles, the labor union for professional film and television actors told its members.
  • One of America's favorite castaways, actress Dawn Wells who played Mary Ann on 60's sitcom "Gilligan's Island," has died of Covid-19, her spokeswoman said. She was 82.

The mutation detected in Colorado and California has also been identified in more than a dozen countries, including France, Denmark, Japan, South Korea and Canada.

But because there is no widespread effort in the U.S. to conduct regular genome sequencing of samples from across the country, it's likely that the variant is already spreading here, Dr. Diane Griffin, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News on Tuesday.

The silver lining? The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines for Covid-19 should be effective against the new variant.

"Our working assumption from all the scientists is that the vaccine response should be adequate for this virus," Patrick Vallance, the U.K. government's chief scientific adviser, said earlier this month.

Nearly 19.7 million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic and the virus has claimed more than 341,000 lives, according to the latest NBC News data.

Housed in what was once a local hospital and home to about 25 residents, the Good Samaritan Society facility in Simla is in the midst of an outbreak of Covid-19 cases and so far there have been two confirmed coronavirus fatalities, a 93-year-old man and an 88-year-old woman, officials have said.

The facility caters mostly to people from the eastern plains of Colorado and got a top rating in 2009 in a U.S. News & World Report survey of 15,500 of the nation's nursing homes.

But in May, state health department inspectors noted that the facility “failed to establish and maintain an infection control program,” although it rated the potential level of harm to residents as minimal.

And in an unrelated case in November, the facility and its administrators were accused in a civil lawsuit of negligence in connection with the death of a 74-year-old resident who wandered off in her motorized wheelchair and tipped over into a nearby drainage ditch.