Public health officials in Los Angeles reported Wednesday that the county had discovered the first cases of coronavirus variants originally seen in Brazil and South Africa. While only three occurrences of the virus strain from Brazil – also known as P.1 – and one occurrence of the variant from South Africa – known as B.1.351 – were detected, they are probably far from the only cases in the county.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted that “very few of our samples are genetically tested this way because of the expense.” Across the country, only 5% of tests are run through genomic sequencing, according to California’s chief health officer. The rate is even lower at the county level.
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These issues also apply to B.1.351, which in addition is believed to be 50% more transferable by the CDC. See the diagram below.
Even more worrying, however, is that the majority of samples that were genomically analyzed in Los Angeles County last week turned out to be variants of concern. This list was led this week by the more infectious British variant – known as B.1.1.7 – which this week also became the dominant strain in the US
While B.1.1.7 has been present in CA for several months, its rise in LA is surprising because the homemade so-called West Coast variant – B.1427 / B.1429 – has dominated the state for at least the last four weeks by a very wide margin. The figures in the chart below show that the total incidence of west coast variants identified in the county to date sits at 415, and the number of unknown variants identified to date 169. That is 42% of all tests that come back with as B.1427 /B.1429 and 17% B.1.1.7.
The spread at state level is even more pronounced. Pr. On April 1, 851 cases of the British variant were reported in CA. However, the same report shows that a total of close to 10,000 cases of the west coast variants have been identified to date.
But last week in LA, B.1.1.7 peaked at 64% of the variants detected. B.1427 / B.1429 was only 20%.
The answer may lie in the CDC’s finding that while the UK variant is 50% more transferable, the West Coast variant is only 20% more. The British variant can therefore outcompete the less infectious West Coast tribe.
The discovery of the Brazilian and South African variants in Los Angeles comes just two days after the Stanford Clinical Virology Lab confirmed California’s first case of a new “double mutant” variant originating in India. One of India’s variant mutations is like a key change first discovered in the Brazil and South Africa variants. The second mutation is also found in a variant that was first discovered in the West Coast variant. It is unclear at this time whether the so-called double mutant is more contagious or vaccine resistant.
Of course, only Tuesday did California Gov. Gavin Newsom announce that the state plans to drop most of its Covid-19 restrictions on June 15, as long as infection and vaccination numbers continue to move in the right direction.
That could be a challenge as some key Covid-19 numbers have stalled in Los Angeles, Orange County, Bay Area and Sacramento this week.
“Cases are not going down anymore,” Ferrer said Wednesday. “We have a little plateau.”