A new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in the United Kingdom has been found in San Diego County, officials announced last week.
Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego Board of Supervisors, said the man was 30 years old with no recent history of travel. The man started to develop symptoms on Dec. 27, was tested on Dec. 29 and the result came back positive. The sample was then tested for the UK variant and that result also came back positive, officials said.
The man has reportedly not been hospitalized.
“Because there is no travel history,” Mr. Fletcher said, “we do not believe this is an isolated case in San Diego County… There are probably other cases of this same strain in San Diego County.”
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Monday that local health officials had tested only 26 samples from COVID-positive patients, and “we have not found any evidence of the variant in that first group of tests that we ran.”
She confirmed that again on Wednesday, saying there has still been no detection of the variant. The State of California is testing many more samples each day and it has not identified the new variant among residents, either.
She added, “… For all of us in public health, because there is so much spread right now and so many people who are infected — and we’re not running all of the samples through this sort of gene sequencing — it would be impossible for us to say with all certainty that the variant isn’t here. And almost all of us, I think, agree that there’s a high probability that the variant is here, although at this point it doesn’t appear to be dominant, because if it was you might see it initially in the samples that are being run.”
Last month, Dr. Henning Ansorg, health director for Santa Barbara County, said it was “common for viruses to mutate,” usually giving new strains the ability to spread more easily, though said the new strain had not been detected locally.
The new mutation has been dubbed VUI-202012/01.
U.K. health experts say this variant could be up to 70% more infectious than others. The good news is that the current COVID vaccines being marched out are expected to be effective against the mutation.
During a conversation last week between Gov. Gavin Newsom and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the director said it was likely there will be more cases with the variant in California, as well as the United States.
“We likely will have reports (of the new strain) from other states,” said Dr. Fauci. “I think you’re gonna start seeing it because if you have that much of a prominence of this in the U.K., with all the travel — not only directly to the United States, but from other countries intermittently — I don’t think that Californians should think that this is something odd. This is something expected.
“It looks pretty clear from the U.K. group,” Dr. Fauci added,” that in fact the transmissibility of this mutant is more efficient than the transmissibility of the standard virus that we’ve been dealing with up to now.
“Namely,” he continued, “it’s able to bind to receptors on cells better and therefore is transmitted better. There’s no indication at all that it increases the virulence — and by virulence I mean the ability to make you more sick or kill you.
“In addition,” said Dr. Fauci, “it doesn’t seem to evade the protection that’s afforded by the antibodies that are induced by the vaccines.
“The other thing that they’ve noted in the U.K. is that people who get infected don’t seem to get reinfected by this,” he explained, “which means that the immunity that’s given to you when you get infected is protective against this particular strain.”
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department did not issue a daily status report and dashboard update on Saturday, citing “scheduled system maintenance.”
Updates were expected to resume today.
According to the state’s COVID dashboard, the county has a total of 17,759 total cases of COVID-19, which is an increase of 368 cases reflected in the county’s data as of Thursday.