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Health officials in California are investigating whether a homegrown coronavirus strain could be partly to blame for the state’s surge in infections.
According to the Los Angeles Times, scientists stumbled upon the new strain while looking for signs of the highly contagious variant that originated in the United Kingdom before making its way over to the US.
During that search, researchers found a new strain, dubbed B.1.426, which is thought to be responsible for the rapid rise in infections during the holiday season in California where more than 3.1 million cases have been reported and 36,790 people have died.
The new strain is also highly contagious and is propagating faster than any other variant in California.
‘While the B.1.1.7 strain may play an important role in increased COVID rates in the UK and Europe, there are still no reports to account for the current spike of cases in Los Angeles and California as a whole that began in early November 2020,’ researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center wrote in their findings.
Health officials in California are investigating whether a homegrown coronavirus strain, dubbed B.1.426, could be partly to blame for the state’s surge in infections. The strain has five mutations including, CAL.20C (red bubble), which has been increasingly found in California
According to researchers, the CAL.20C strain was barely detectable in October, but by December it made up 24 per cent of 4,500 viral samples
The graphic depicts the rapid increase of infections between late November through December in California. The increase is being blamed on what researchers believe is a homegrown strain of the coronavirus
In California, more than 3.1 million cases have been reported and 36,790 people have died. More than 18,000 people died in the state in less than three months
‘We report the existence of a novel strain CAL.20C that is currently increasing in numbers in Southern California,’ they added.
The B.1.426 strain was initially discovered in July, but it wasn’t seen again until three months later.
According to the research, the CAL.20C strain was barely detectable in October, but by December it made up 24 per cent of 4,500 viral samples.
In a separate study, researchers found that 25 per cent of viral samples from Northern California between late November and December were of the same type, according to the LA Times.
‘There was a homegrown variant under our noses,’ Dr Charles Chiu, a laboratory medicine specialist at UC San Francisco, told the newspaper.
Chiu said if they hadn’t been searching for the UK strain, they ‘could have missed this at every level’.
According to the Cedars-Sinai team, the B.1.426 strain has five mutations, including the L452R mutation, which alters the virus’ spike protein. The spike protein is what the virus uses to infiltrate human cells.
The new strain is believed to be partly responsible for California nearly doubling its death toll in less than three months.
However, just how big of a role the new strain played in the surge is still unclear due to the presence of other factors including holiday gatherings and people disregarding CDC guidance.
In order to determine B.1.426’s role in the surge, investigators are trying to figure out what it’s capable of doing.
In a separate study, researchers found that 25 per cent of viral samples from Northern California between late November and December were of the same type. A doctor checks in on a patient with COVID-19 in Los Angeles
CA health chief says COVID infection curve ‘beginning to flatten’
Researchers told the LA Times that they will focus on its transmissibility and its ability to circumvent masks, drugs and vaccines, which are being used as tools to stop the spread.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is stepping up its efforts to track coronavirus mutations to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines and treatments stay ahead of new variants of the disease until collective immunity is achieved, the CDC chief said on Sunday.
Dr Rochelle Walensky spoke about implications posed by the rapidly evolving virus during a Fox News Sunday interview as the
More than 25 million Americans have been infected with the virus and there have been more than 418,000 deaths just over a year after the first US case of COVID-19 was documented.
Walensky, who took over as CDC director last Wednesday, the day President Joe Biden was sworn in, also said the greatest immediate culprit for sluggish vaccine distribution is a supply crunch worsened by inventory confusion inherited from the Trump administration.
‘The fact that we don’t know today, five days into this administration, and weeks into planning, how much vaccine we have just gives you a sense of the challenges we’ve been left with,’ she told Fox News Sunday.
Biden’s transition team was largely excluded from the government’s vaccine rollout deliberations for weeks after his election as then-President Donald Trump refused to concede defeat and allow the incoming administration access to information needed to prepare to govern.
There have been more than 25 million cases of the virus reported in the US since the pandemic began last year.
Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, said in a separate interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, that a plan for distributing the vaccine, particularly beyond nursing homes and hospitals, ‘did not really exist when we came into the White House.’
Walensky said she was confident the government would soon resolve supply questions, and go on to dramatically expand vaccine production and distribution by late March.
Uncertainty over immediate supplies, however, will hinder efforts at the state and local levels to plan ahead for how many vaccination sites, personnel and appointments to set up in the meantime, exacerbating shortages in the short term, she said.
Vaccination has become ever more critical with the recent emergence of several coronavirus variants believed to be more transmissible, and in the case of one strain first detected in Britain, possibly more lethal.
‘We are now scaling up both our surveillance of these and our study of these,’ Walensky said, adding that the CDC was collaborating with the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and even the Pentagon.
The object, she said, is to monitor ‘the impact of these variants on vaccines, as well as on our therapeutics,’ as the virus continues to mutate while it spreads.
Until vaccines can provide ‘herd’ immunity in the population, mask-wearing and social distancing remain vital to ‘decrease the amount of virus that is circulating, and therefore, decrease the amount of variants that are out there,’ Walensky said.
Although British officials on Friday warned that the so-called UK variant of the coronavirus, already detected in at least 20 US states, was associated with a higher level of mortality, scientists have said existing vaccines still appeared to be effective against it.
They worry, however, that a more contagious South African variant may reduce the efficacy of current vaccines and shows resistance to three antibody therapeutics developed for treating COVID-19 patients.
Similarities between the South African variant and another identified in Brazil suggest the Brazilian variety may likewise resist antibody treatment.
‘We’re in a race against these variants,’ said Vivek Murthy, nominated by Biden to become the next US surgeon general, on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist, said in late December he was optimistic the US could achieve enough collective immunity to COVID to regain ‘some semblance of normality’ by the fall of 2021.
But Murthy said getting to herd immunity before a new school year begins in September was ‘an ambitious goal’.
Nevertheless, Murthy suggested the government may exceed Biden’s objective of administering 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his presidency, telling ABC News, ‘that’s a floor; it’s not a ceiling’.
Fauci, appearing separately on CBS News’ Face the Nation, said the 100-million-shot goal encompasses people who may have received both injections of the two-dose vaccines and those who have only gotten the first jab.