30-Year-Old Man Is First Identified Case Of More Infectious Covid-19 Strain In California; “We Do Not Believe This Is An Isolated Case,” Says Official — Updated

UPDATED with the latest: A new, more contagious variant of Covid-19 that was first detected in the United Kingdom has been found in San Diego County, according to the chair of that region’s Board of Supervisors, Nathan Fletcher.

Fletcher said the man was 30-years-old with no recent history of travel. Both of those details are significant: the first, because it demonstrates vulnerability among a younger population to the new strain; the second, because it seems to indicate the virus spread within the county, which would imply there are many more people infected with the new strain in the region.

The man “started developing Covid symptoms on the 27th,” according to Fletcher. He was tested on the 29th, said the supervisor, and the result came back positive. The sample was then tested overnight for the UK variant — more on that below — and that result also came back positive. The man has not been hospitalized.

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“Because there is no travel history,” said Fletcher, “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.”

While the new strain of Covid-19 hasn’t been found in Los Angeles, it is likely already present in L.A. 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.

Ferrer said Monday, however, that it’s likely the variant is already present in the county.

“… 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,” she said. “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.”

County Supervisor Hilda Solis said on Wednesday that the test positivity rate has skyrocketed to 20%. That’s approaching the all-time high of 23% seen on April 5, and it could indicate the presence of the new, more infectious strain, especially since the number of tests being delivered is much higher than it was in April.

The state on Thursday reported a continued drop in daily new cases, to 27,237. It recorded a near-record number of deaths, at 428. The 14-day average of the statewide test positivity rate was 11.9%. Hospital occupancy was at another all-time high, while the number of available ICU beds was at an all-time low.

PREVIOUSLY on December 30: At the top of a conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed that the new, reportedly more infectious strain of Covid-19 first identified in the U.K. had been found in CA, specifically Southern California. 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.

Newsom said he was informed “just about an hour ago” that the new strain had been found in the state. While the variation is much more infectious, it does not appear to be more deadly on a case-by-case basis, according to experts. Fauci said he wasn’t surprised that there was a case “and likely more cases in California.”

“We more than likely will be seeing more cases in other states,” said Fauci about the variant that was first identified stateside in Colorado yesterday. That state on Wednesday announced a suspected second case.

“We likely will have reports [of the new strain] from other states,” said 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,” reported Fauci,” 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,” said Fauci, “which means that the immunity that’s given to you when you get infected is protective against this particular strain.”

“This is not abnormal,” observed Newsom, “for an RNA virus.

“RNA viruses,” responded Fauci, make a living out of mutating. The more you replicate, the more you mutate…Every once in a while, you get a mutation that impacts the function of the virus.”

In fact in 1918, that virus actually mutated and became less deadly as the pandemic wore on.

Watch Fauci’s conversation with Newsom below.

Earlier in the day, Newsom also reported that the state had recorded a shocking 432 Covid-related deaths over the past 24 hours.

For comparison, the already very high 7-day average of deaths was 239 on Wednesday. The previous daily record in the state was 379 deaths on December 16. Even more shocking, on November 30, the number of daily Covid-19 deaths was 70. So Wednesday’s number represents a mind-numbing 617% increase in the past 30 days. Over 14 days, announced the governor grimly, “that’s 3,477 lives lost.”

For those who early in the pandemic maintained Covid-19 was little more than the flu, 3,477 deaths represents more than 50% of California’s typical number of deaths from the flu in a year when the flu was widespread.

Newsom announced 30,921 new cases of Covid-19 had been identified in the state on Wednesday. He noted that number reflected a “plateauing we’re seeing outside of L.A. County, outside of Southern California more broadly.” L.A. County, of course, remained the epicenter of the virus in the state and possibly the country.

California’s test positivity rate in the state was 12.2% over the past 14 days. Newsom said, “There is now some evidence that that number is plateauing, as well,” but cautioned against putting too much faith in that dip.

California’s test positivity rate in the state was 12.2% over the past 14 days. Newsom said, “There is now some evidence that that number is plateauing, as well,” but cautioned against putting too much faith in that dip.

He said there were over 20,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19. “You’re beginning to see that number decline modestly statewide,” he added.

The problem area — in addition to deaths — is in state ICUs, especially in the Central Valley and Southern California. “That’s our focus,” said Newsom.

While the diminishing daily case numbers do indicate the dreaded Thanksgiving surge may have worked its way through the state, CA’s Director of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, indicated the state may not yet be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Health officials are still worried, “not just because of thanksgiving,” said Ghaly, “but now because of Hanukah and Christmas.” If those holidays saw an equal or greater amount of travel and household mixing, the worst may be yet to come.

In fact, the state’s own modeling aggregator predicts California will see a 100% increase in total hospitalizations by January 29 and a 60% increase in Covid-19 patients requiring ICU care.

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