A new, apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first reported in the United Kingdom has been detected in the Big Bear area, health officials said Friday.
Two people from the same household were found to have the virus variant after one member had contact with a traveler who returned from the U.K. on Dec. 11 and began showing symptoms three days later, according to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.
It’s unclear whether the traveler also tested positive for the same strain.
The traveler arrived in the state more than two weeks before the United States started requiring a negative coronavirus test result from all air travelers coming from Britain.
“Based on the information currently available, we know that the B117 variant strain seems to spread more easily and quickly,” county Health Officer Dr. Michael Sequeira said. “Therefore, following all safe practices is more important than ever.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced the state’s first known case of the coronavirus variant, which was found in a 30-year-old San Diego man with no travel history.
The next day, San Diego County health officials announced three more men were found to have the new strain. None had any known interaction with the other and two of them hadn’t traveled, according to the health department.
Newsom announced the first case during a live-streamed discussion with the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Fauci told the governor he wasn’t surprised by the discovery, saying there will likely be more cases of the variant.
“I don’t think that Californians should feel that this is something odd,” Fauci said. “This is something that’s expected.”
A day before California announced its case, Colorado reported finding the variant, becoming the first state in the country to do so.
This variant has a mutation in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein, one that could potentially make it more rapidly transmissible than other circulating strains, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Fauci said there’s no indication the new strain is more harmful, and added that it appears the current COVID-19 vaccines should be effective in fighting it.
Still, the new variant caused alarm and dozens of countries in Europe and beyond have restricted travel from the U.K.
California is finding cases of the possibly more infectious strain while it deals with an unprecedented coronavirus surge that has already overwhelmed hospitals and some mortuaries.
Health officials have been pleading with residents to stop gathering with non-household members as the state remains in the initial phase of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.