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The growing numbers of cases of the highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in Britain are sparking worry about a future surge in Southern California, one of the nation’s two hot spots of the worrisome new strain.

Scientists are increasingly voicing deep concern that it is essential to keep coronavirus transmission low and ramp up vaccinations quickly, saying it is possible that hospital systems could again be overwhelmed if the U.K. variant spirals out of control. The U.K. variant has been identified in 32 states, with Florida topping the list with at least 147, and California, at least 113.

The U.K. variant — known officially as B.1.1.7 — is expected to become the dominant variant within a matter of weeks; L.A. County officials announced the second confirmed case of the variant Saturday, which they say was “spreading in the county.” At least two cases have been identified in San Bernardino County.

San Diego County has California’s largest cluster of known cases of B.1.1.7 — at least 109 confirmed cases and 44 additional cases linked epidemiologically to known variant cases, officials said last week. Health authorities in San Diego County announced last week the first death linked to B.1.1.7, a 71-year-old man suspected to have been infected with the new strain, who was a household contact of someone who was confirmed to have been infected by the variant. Two people have been hospitalized with the variant.

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