State’s 1st case of new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus detected in SoCal

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A new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus reported in the United Kingdom and Colorado has been detected in Southern California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

Newsom made the announcement while speaking to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a virtual conversation about the pandemic.

After the governor’s disclosure, officials announced the infected person is a 30-year-old San Diego man with no history of travel.

L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said her agency has not found evidence of the variant in the region.

“This doesn’t mean that the variant is not circulating in L.A. County,” Ferrer said. “We have thousands and thousands of people getting tested every day, and we’re just able to sample a small number of those tests results and do the gene sequencing.”

Colorado on Tuesday became the first state in the U.S. to find the new variant of the virus. The patient is a man in his 20s with no travel history, local health officials said. He’s now isolated southeast of Denver.

Fauci said he wasn’t surprised that California has discovered a case, citing international travel. He expects more will likely surface in the state and elsewhere in the U.S.

“I don’t think that Californians should feel that this is something odd. This is something that’s expected,” said Fauci, who’s the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases.

The cases have triggered a host of questions about how the mutant version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the country.

The case in California comes as the state is consumed by a growing pandemic crisis, including record deaths.

Hospitals are increasingly stretched by soaring infections that are expected to grow in coming weeks. Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley have what is considered no intensive care capacity to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus. And state health officials remain worried about gatherings tied to New Year’s Eve.

But hope is on the horizon as vaccines roll out.

Fauci said while the new strain can be transmitted more efficiently, there’s no indication that it’s more harmful. It also appears that the current vaccines should be effective in fighting it, according to the doctor.

The statewide transmission rate has fallen to the point where one infected person is in turn infecting just one other individual, a development that Newsom called encouraging while warning that rates in central and Southern California remain much higher — and the trend could reverse from holiday gatherings.

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