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California’s First Two Cases of South African COVID Variant Found in the Bay Area

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By Eli Walsh

Genomics researchers at Stanford University have confirmed California’s first two cases of the South African coronavirus variant in Alameda and Santa Clara counties, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

The 501Y.V2 or B.1.351 variant is one of several recent mutations of the virus, most of which involve changes to its spike protein — the part of the virus that enables it to enter human cells — that may make it more contagious and slightly more resistant to vaccines.

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“The issue of mutations is top of mind, not only here in the state of California, across this nation, but increasingly around the globe,” Newsom said Wednesday during a briefing in Fresno County.

The Santa Clara County resident with the confirmed case of the variant tested positive after traveling internationally, according to county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.

The adult resident quarantined immediately after their travel as required by the county, which Cody said reduces the chance the South African variant will spread within the county from this specific patient.

“The good news is that at no time during their infectious period were they in contact with anyone outside of their household,” Cody said Wednesday afternoon in a briefing on the confirmed cases.

Alameda County Public Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss said the confirmed case in Alameda County is also no longer infectious based on when they tested positive, but investigations into both cases are ongoing.

Both cases do not appear to be linked to each other and were sequenced and confirmed by the Stanford Medicine pathology lab overseen by Dr. Ben. Pinsky, according to Cody.

The state has also confirmed 159 cases of the COVID-19 variant that originated in the United Kingdom and 1,203 cases of the two variants that originated on the West Coast, according to Newsom.

While the two health officers advised residents in their respective counties and the Bay Area at large to continue following now-standard public health practices like physical distancing and masking, Cody warned that it’s difficult to truly know how prevalent the new virus variants are.

“We don’t do this sequencing on every positive specimen,” Cody said. “And so in some ways we sort of have to assume that perhaps these variants of concern are already circulating, we just don’t know to what extent.”
The growing prevalence of new COVID-19 variants may also lead to future surges in cases, Moss said.

Those surges may look different than the state’s previous summer and winter spikes in cases as more residents are vaccinated against the virus, but could still lead to fluctuation in some business sectors reopening and resuming operations indoors.

“We remain in a time where there are a lot of restrictions in place,” Moss said. “And I think this is all the more reason for people to abide by those. We might also have to increase restrictions again. That’s simply the situation we’re in.”


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