California facing concerns over coronavirus variants


As California continues to make progress in its fight against coronavirus, a new string of virus mutations is threatening another surge.

The main variant, known as B.1.1.7, has been identified in 467 people in 32 states with California at 113 cases, second only to Florida’s 147.

Since the overall pandemic began nearly a year ago, California has reported 3,323,425 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 21,379 on Monday, and 41,357 deaths, including 416 on Monday.

The majority of B.1.1.7 cases in California – 109 – are in San Diego County, including the first death linked to it. In that case, a 71-year-old man died last week after contracting the virus from someone else who was confirmed to have been infected with the variant.

According to the San Diego County Health Department, the median age of those who have caught B.1.1.7 is 30, but it has also been identified in at least one newborn and a person as old as 77.

The mutation was first detected late last year in Europe, mainly in England, Ireland and Portugal, and quickly became the dominant strains in those countries.

“This particular variant is estimated to be 50 percent to 70 percent more transmissible, leading to surges in cases,” Natasha Martin, professor of infectious diseases at the University of California at San Diego, told the San Diego County Board of Supervisors last week. “There is recent evidence that it may lead to higher mortality as well.”

The first case of B.1.1.7 in California was detected on Dec. 30 and now accounts for 5 percent of cases.

“The question is not whether this strain will become dominant, but how long it will take,” Martin added.

The effective reproduction number for coronavirus in California is 0.8, meaning every infected person transmits the disease to fewer than one other person. The arrival of B.1.1.7 could push that number above 1.0.

San Diego County is currently averaging about 1,500 new cases per day after a seven-day average of 3,600 that topped out on Jan. 12. Martin estimated the new variant could push that above 7,000 cases per day if people become too lax in their behavior.

At least one case of a variant that originated in Brazil, P.2, has also been diagnosed in California.

In Los Angeles County, the transmission rate has dropped from 1.2 to 0.85, leading to a decrease in hospitalizations.

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