A vial of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Fauci also said vaccines appear to be effective against the variant.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Health & Wellness

New, potentially more contagious coronavirus variant found in San Diego

The new, potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus identified in Britain has been found in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.

Newsom could only say the variant was somewhere in Southern California. But a statement released by the California Department of Public Health said the patient is in San Diego.

The statement continued, “This is the first identification of the United Kingdom variant strain, sometimes called strain B.1.1.7 or VOC 202012/01, in California. The affected individual has no known travel history. “

The CDPH statement added that, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 vaccines should provide immunity to this strain.”

The first reported U.S. case of COVID-19 caused by the variant was detected in Colorado, officials there announced Tuesday.

Though there are some signs this strain spreads more easily, “there’s no indication at all that it increases the virulence … the ability to make you sick or kill you. It doesn’t seem to make it more strong in that regard,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a conversation with Newsom.

Fauci also said vaccines appear to be effective against the variant.

Some scientists are skeptical that genetic changes in the strain, known as B.1.1.7, make it more contagious, as other scientists have concluded. There are other possible explanations for the variant’s rapid spread in England, such as its transmission through dense communities and among people who are less likely to wear masks and socially distance.

On Monday, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that the county had analyzed 29 samples from local coronavirus cases and that none were positive for the variant identified in Britain.

She said there was a high probability the variant was already in the area, but it did not appear to be dominant.

“Whether the variant is here or isn’t here, the steps we need to take are exactly the same,” she said.

The announcement came as California reached another sobering and staggering milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, recording 25,000 deaths from the disease as it continues to run rampant through the state.

The toll, confirmed through a Times county-by-county tally of local health jurisdictions, includes a new single-day record set Tuesday, when the state logged 442 fatalities: equivalent to someone dying of the disease every three minutes.

Newsom called the recent death figure “very, very sobering” and said he hopes it underscores “the importance of being safe and using common sense,” particularly with New Year’s Eve right around the corner.

“We look forward to turning the proverbial page on 2020, at least many of us do, and I hope we all do it safely as we celebrate the end of this very long, arduous year,” he said during a briefing Wednesday.