In recent weeks, California’s Covid-19 numbers have dropped dramatically, allaying fears of a continued increase in cases. But public health officials have also started warning of the spread of new variants of the virus that may be more adaptable and / or more resistant to vaccines.
The first of these is B.1.1.7, also known as the UK variant. It is believed that B.1.1.7 is about 50% more transmissible. Los Angeles County health officials identified the first case of B.1.1.7 in the region in mid-January but, according to CA director of health and human services Dr. Mark Ghaly on Tuesday, the strain is “not increasing rapidly” in the state. . Ghaly said 133 cases have been recorded so far, “mostly in the south of the state.” But there is another strain of the virus that is less well known and more prevalent in the state.
LA and CA Fly Blind on New Covid-19 Mutants; Fauci calls virus variants
Also referred to as B.1.429 and B.1.427 or the West Coast variants, or sometimes referred to as CAL.20C.
Dr Charles Chiu, virologist and professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF who, together with state authorities, genetically sequenced test samples to identify new variants, said the first indications are CAL .20C may be less sensitive to currently approved vaccines, but further investigation is needed.
“This variant carries three mutations, including L452R, in the spike protein, which the virus uses to bind and enter cells, and is the target of the two vaccines currently available in the United States,” said Dr. Chiu. A spike protein mutation could then interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine. Given the importance of this spike protein, L452R is another name sometimes used for West Coast variants.
When asked about vaccine resistance, Ghaly was more circumspect, saying, “He doesn’t know exactly what its exact role is in making people sicker or its impact on things like vaccines.”
Ghaly made reveal, however, that the state had over 1,000 cases of West Coast variants. It’s much more than the much talked about British variant. Specifically, Ghaly revealed on Tuesday that the state had identified 767 cases of B.1.429 and 290 cases of B.1.427.
“This variant has been identified in several large epidemics in our county,” Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody said in January. She called this correlation a “red flag and needs further investigation.”
West Coast variants have also been detected in Los Angeles, Mono, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Humboldt, and Lake counties. Since genomic sequencing is rare, it is currently unclear what the prevalence of L452 is statewide, nationally, or globally.
Dr Chiu said L452R has grown from around 3.8% of the samples it tested from late November 2020 to early December to over 25.2% from late December to early January 2021.
Eric Vail, director of molecular pathology at Cedars-Sinai, said The New York Times that CAL.20C may have played a role in the spike in cases that overwhelmed Southern California hospitals earlier this month. “I have no doubts that this is a more infectious strain of the virus,” said Dr Vail.
Scientists are concerned about L452R because it may help coronaviruses adhere to and infect human cells more easily.
Dr Vail and other state researchers say the L452 mutations they found were still alongside four other specific mutations. This invariable arrangement was a strong sign of a single line “native” to California.
Cedars researchers discovered CAL.20C in July. As limited genetic testing was able to detect, the variant did not appear in Southern California until October. At the time, this did not seem to be widespread.
As of December, however, 36% of virus samples from Cedars-Sinai patients were identified as CAL2.0C. The variant also accounted for nearly a quarter of all samples from Southern California. But again, the number of samples tested is tiny next to the total number of daily Covid tests.
By early January, the state had administered more than 30 million Covid-19 tests. Of these tens of millions, only around 7,000 had been genomically analyzed, according to the San Jose Mercury News. It must be said that the nation as a whole is terribly behind in such analyzes. But California – and Los Angeles in particular – is the global epicenter of the pandemic. The need here is more acute. But these tests are expensive.
Los Angeles County only genomically analyzes a few dozen samples each day, so it’s hard to know. That’s on an average of 81,000 tests per day. (Health officials say they’re flagging the most suspicious samples for genomic examination.)
When asked about this disparity by Deadline on Friday, LA County Scientific Director Dr. Paul Simon admitted, “We don’t really have a clue about the prevalence. [of new strains], but we don’t think it’s high. As we grow we hope to get a better idea. I think we are doing everything to test as many as possible, but there is no new infusion of resources. “
Speaking of tests, the state recorded 12,064 new cases on Tuesday, including 422 deaths linked to the pandemic. The number of available hospital and intensive care beds continues to increase.
Regarding the reopening, officials announced that Los Angeles County had an adjusted case rate of 48.2 per 100,000 last week. This week, that number fell to 38.7 per 100,000 population. When it reaches 25 cases per 100,000, elementary schools can apply for waivers to reopen. That number would need to drop to 7 per 100,000 for more widespread openings to occur.