As the total number of coronavirus infections in California approaches 3 million, health authorities said Sunday that a new strain, different from a highly contagious variant first identified in the UK, is showing up more frequently. across the state.
Researchers have identified the strain in a dozen counties and linked it to several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County. The California Department of Public Health said it is not yet clear whether the variant is highly contagious or is only frequently identified as laboratory work becomes more sophisticated.
Santa Clara County laboratories studying changes in the virus genome sequence found the strain in samples from community testing sites and outbreaks where “a very high number of exposed people contracted the virus.” authorities said.
“This virus continues to mutate and adapt, and we cannot let our guard down,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County health officer and director of the Department of Public Health, in a prepared statement.
The new variant has also been reported in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego, Humboldt, Lake, Mono, Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.
Scientists say they don’t know how prevalent the strain is, because viral genomic sequencing isn’t done in every part of the state or country.
The variant carries three mutations in the spike protein, which the virus uses to adhere to and enter cells in the human body, said Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist at UC San Francisco.
The two COVID-19 vaccines on the US market, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, train the body’s immune system to attack the spike protein. This means that, in theory, mutations in the virus could alter the spike protein to the point where vaccines become less effective.
Chiu said the researchers are prioritizing studying the variant and are working to determine whether the virus is “more infectious or affects the performance of the vaccine.”
The variant is not the same as the highly contagious strain that was first identified last month in the UK. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Friday that the British variant, known as B117, could become the dominant coronavirus strain in the US in March, due to its rapid spread.
Los Angeles County confirmed its first case of the B117 variant on Saturday in a man who had spent time in the county but is now isolated in Oregon.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Dr. Erica S. Pan, a state epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health, sent an alert to California medical providers recommending that they temporarily stop administering doses of the Modern COVID-19 single-batch vaccine. after “fewer than 10” people had allergic reactions to the vaccine at a community vaccination clinic, Pan said.
More than 330,000 doses from the batch were distributed to 287 suppliers in California from January 5 to 12, authorities said. Providers should use other available vaccine doses “with extreme caution,” Pan said, until Moderna and state and federal health officials complete their investigation.
On Sunday, the total number of California residents who received a positive coronavirus test reached 2.96 million.
In Los Angeles County, authorities on Sunday reported 108 deaths and 11,366 new positive cases, bringing the total to 13,848 deaths and just over a million cases. Officials warned that data reported Sunday may be artificially low due to the delay in reporting over the holiday weekend.
So many people have died in Los Angeles County that officials have temporarily suspended air quality regulations that limit the number of cremations. Los Angeles County health officials and coroner requested the change because the current death rate is “more than double that of pre-pandemic years, causing hospitals, funeral homes, and crematoriums to exceed capacity, unable to process the backlog, “the South Coast Air Quality Management District said Sunday.
In at least a ray of hope, the number of people in Los Angeles County hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped this week, from 7,910 on Monday to 7,498 on Sunday, down from a peak of just over 8,000. , according to health authorities. About 23% of hospitalized patients are in intensive care.
The percentage of people who were tested for the coronavirus and received a positive result has also decreased slightly, from 16.5% on Monday to 14%. Officials say the drop could be a sign that infections are starting to decline after the post-holiday surge.
Meanwhile, in Orange County, health officials reported 1,448 new cases and 47 deaths. The county total is now 210,813 cases and 2,367 deaths.
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This article was first published in Los Angeles Times in Spanish.