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New, potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus spreads in California

A health worker fills out a vaccination card before administering the COVID-19 vaccine in West Chester, Pa., on Dec. 29.
A health department worker fills out a vaccination card before administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa., on Dec. 29.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

Officials in San Diego County on Tuesday reported a cumulative total of 32 cases of the new, potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus that has also spread rapidly in England.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first identified in a virus sample taken from a San Diego County man in his 30s on Dec. 29 and confirmed a day later and subsequently announced publicly.

Since then, more cases of the variant have been identified, and on Tuesday, officials announced an additional 24 cases confirmed by whole genome sequencing and four more suspected cases.

Prior to Tuesday, San Diego County had confirmed four cases of the variant. The 24 newly confirmed patients are believed to have no travel history and to have come from 19 different households, but an investigation and contact tracing are ongoing, according to a statement released by county officials.

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The new cases have been identified among residents of San Diego and several suburbs, including Chula Vista, La Mesa and Lakeside. The residents range in age from 10 to over 70.

San Diego County officials say no patients infected with the variant have died, but one woman was hospitalized. She is now recovering at home.

The variant has also been identified in two people of the same household in Big Bear in San Bernardino County, and has been identified in Colorado and New York as well.

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The variant is believed to be more contagious than the conventional variety of the virus predominantly circulating in California, but for people infected with it, it is not thought to pose a greater risk for severe illness or death.

Health officials say the guidance on handling this new variant remains the same: Stay home as much as possible, don’t go to gatherings, don’t travel, wear a mask at all times when near others at work or at the grocery store, only exercise by yourself or with others from your household, wash your hands every hour, and take a break from shopping trips.

Though L.A. County officials have yet to document the strain’s presence there, “having a virus that is able to infect more people more quickly than what we’re seeing today” is a “frightening thought,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday.

Dr. Neha Nanda, medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship at USC-Keck Medicine, said Tuesday she thinks the current COVID-19 vaccines will be able to fight against the new variant, based on the immune response the body launches following a natural infection or a vaccination.

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“This variant is not something people have to succumb to,” she said.

Times staff writer Colleen Shalby and San Diego Union-Tribune writer Lyndsay Winkley contributed to this report.


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