LOS ANGELES, CA — Los Angeles County health officials said Tuesday that the new variant of COVID-19 detected in England and in Colorado on Tuesday has not been detected in California yet, but there is a “high probability” that it is already here.
Health officials in Colorado Tuesday confirmed that the variant of COVID-19 believed to be more contagious has been detected in that state. The strain has not yet been found in the Southland, but Los Angeles County’s public health director said there’s a good chance it’s already here. If the variant first identified in England is already in Southern California, it’s unlikely to be the dominant strand circulating in the community, according to county health officials. If it were dominant, it likely would have already turned up in the samples tested for mutations via gene sequencing, said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Ferrer said Monday local health officials have tested 29 samples from COVID- positive patients, and “we have not found any evidence of the variant in that first group of tests that we ran.”
Early this month, new cases of the coronavirus began surging in Los Angeles County at unexpected rates. Thanksgiving gatherings have largely been blamed for the surge, but officials have not ruled out the presence of the more contagious strain as a potential factor.
Colorado’s confirmation of the new strain, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom, is the first detection of the variant in the United States. Colorado officials said the patient was a man in his 20s who had no recent history of travel.
The new strain, known as B.1.1.7, is not thought to cause more severe illness than the original virus, but it is believed to be dramatically more contagious — meaning it is far more easily transmitted from one person to the next.
But Ferrer said even if the variant is in the county, it wouldn’t change the infection-control measures that are already in place.
“I think whether the variant is here or it isn’t here, the steps we need to take are exactly the same,” she said. “Whether the variant is slightly more infectious than the virus as we’re experiencing it now in the predominant strain we’re seeing here in L.A. County, the steps to take are the same. And the urgency is the same.
“There is a lot of community spread, and that makes it easier for this virus to keep spreading,” Ferrer said. “So we’re all going to have to do everything we know how to do to contain the virus.”