Last Wednesday, as California Governor Gavin Newsom gave one of his regular updates on Covid-19, he said he was surprised at “something not many people pay attention to.” That “something” is the growth of the so-called West Coast variant of Covid-19.
Newsom and its surrogates have, to their credit, given regular updates on the growth of the variant. Deadline reported that CA’s director of health and human services, Dr Mark Ghaly, reported in early February that the state had discovered 1,000 instances of the West Coast variant, which is actually two similar variants called B.1.427 / B.1.429 or CAL2.0C.
The following week, Newsom reported that the number of identified B.1.427 / B.1.429 cases had increased by 20% to 1,200. Last week, when he expressed surprise at the lack of coverage, the governor noted a further jump of 50% to 1,834 cases. But these numbers were only a fraction of the actual numbers. Genomic testing is necessary to identify new variants from samples and is expensive.
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By early January, the state had administered more than 30 million Covid-19 tests. Of those tens of millions, only about 7,000 had been genomically analyzed, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Los Angeles County, for its part, genomically analyzes only a few dozen samples each day.
According to Dr. Charles Chiu, virologist and professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF, author of a new study analysis According to the Los Angeles Times, CAL2.0C has jumped to account for more than half of cases in the state and could be responsible for 90% of cases in the state by the end of March.
What’s worse, Dr Chiu told the New York Times On Tuesday, infections of the variant produce a viral load double that of the other variants. CAL2.0C also seems trickier at evading the immune system. As a result, Chiu said, cases caused by the variant are doubling every 18 days.
While the most contagious UK variant of the virus is also spreading in the state, it appears to be doing so more slowly. But the two variants could merge.
The UK and California variants each come with enhanced abilities, and the likelihood of them being able to circulate in the same population raises the specter of a return to infections and deaths, Chiu said. It also opens the door to a “nightmare scenario”: for the two viruses to meet in one person, exchange mutations and create an even more dangerous strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Eric Vail, director of molecular pathology at Cedars-Sinai, told the New York Times in early February that CAL.20C may have played a role in the outbreak of cases that overwhelmed hospitals in Southern California earlier this month. “I have no doubts that this is a more contagious strain of the virus,” said Dr. Vail.
“At least 50% of our samples showed the West Coast variant,” LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said last week before saying “more research needs to be done.”