Orange County’s first known case of a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in the United Kingdom in has been confirmed in a 21-year-old man, officials announced Monday.
The California Department of Public Health, which learned of the case from a reference lab, reported it to the Orange County Health Care Agency over the weekend, according to Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s health officer.
The man, a resident of San Clemente, was first tested on Jan. 26, Chau said in a memo to the Board of Supervisors. His symptoms have since “resolved.”
He has no history of international travel and is not linked to a larger outbreak, Chau added. Officials are tracing his close contacts to determine if any of them were infected.
The U.K. variant of SARS-CoV-2, known as B.1.1.7., was first discovered in the U.S., in the state of Colorado, at the end of last year. Since then, 690 cases have been detected across 33 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
California has the second most reported cases in the country, behind Florida, with 150. Of those, the majority of infections have been diagnosed in San Diego County, according to Chau.
At least four residents in the Big Bear area — all connected to one household — were diagnosed with the new variant, prompting San Bernardino County officials to warn late last week that those living in or traveling to the region should avoid gatherings.
Los Angeles County, meanwhile, has five confirmed infections as of Monday, county health director Barbara Ferrer reported.
B.1.1.7 is one of four coronavirus variants that have popped up globally and in the U.S. in the past few months, but experts expect it to be the dominant one within a few weeks. Of the other three, one incarnation was first detected in California, and the other two originated in Brazil and South Africa.
“All of these variants seem to spread more easily and quickly, more contagious, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19,” Chau said.
Adding to already heightened concern, there’s more evidence that people who have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 may not be protected from becoming reinfected with another variant, according to the Associated Press.
Chau noted that the same mitigation strategies for COVID-19 — such as physical distancing and wearing a facial covering — still apply to slowing the spread of the new mutations.