SAN DIEGO — Health officials say a San Diego County man has California’s first confirmed case of a new, potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
It’s only the second known instance of the variant in the U.S., after a Colorado man tested positive for the strain, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said in a news briefing Wednesday that the local case was in a 30-year-old man with “no travel history” who had been tested on Tuesday.
Because the man had not recently left the region, “we believe this is not an isolated case,” Fletcher said. “There are probably other cases of the same strain in San Diego County.”
He added: “While there is not yet evidence that the strain has any more severe symptoms, there is significant evidence that it does spread considerably faster — that it is much more contagious.”
Fletcher said the variant’s appearance in San Diego, paired with already-rising rates of local infection, made observing health measures all the more important. The supervisor urged people to stay home from any New Year’s Eve celebrations they may be considering attending Thursday.
Kristian Andersen, a professor in the immunology and microbiology department at the Scripps Research Institute, said due to the county’s size and connection to other large, urban areas, finding the U.K. variant was not a surprise.
“We don’t yet know, but we should prepare that this is probably what we are going to see in the coming months,” Andersen said.
A couple hours earlier, Gov. Gavin Newsom had announced the state’s first known case of the variant during a virtual conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, but said only that it was in Southern California.
Like Andersen, Fauci said he was unsurprised, adding that it’s likely there will be more reports of the variant in the Golden State — and across the country.
“I don’t think that Californians should feel that this is something odd,” he told Newsom. “This is something that’s expected.”
Fauci added that while many scientists believe the variant spreads more easily, because of the way it moved so rapidly through the U.K., there is not currently evidence that its symptoms are more severe or deadly, or that it will be resistant to the newly-approved vaccines.
“It doesn’t seem to make it more strong in that regard,” he explained. “In addition, it doesn’t seem to evade the protection that’s afforded by the antibodies that are produced by vaccines.”
All viruses naturally evolve as they move through a population, some more than others. It’s one reason we need a fresh flu shot each year. New variants, or strains, of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been seen almost since it was first detected in China nearly a year ago.
In their briefing Wednesday, San Diego County also reported 2,448 new COVID-19 infections and 37 additional fatalities, raising the cumulative totals to 152,512 cases and 1,472 deaths.
A total of 11 community outbreaks were confirmed Wednesday: four in businesses, four in daycare/childcare settings and one each in a food processing setting, TK-12 school and hotel. There have been 55 community outbreaks confirmed in the last seven days with 240 cases associated with those outbreaks. A community setting outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.