California on Wednesday announced the country’s second confirmed case of the new and apparently contagious variant of coronavirus, which gives a strong indication that the infection is spreading more in the United States.
Govin Newsom announced the infection found in Southern California during an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I do not think the Californians should think this is strange. That is to be expected, Fauci said.
Newsom did not provide details about the person who became infected.
The announcement came 24 hours after the first reported U.S. variant infection, which occurred in Colorado. That person was identified on Wednesday as a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak. Health officials said a second guard member may have it as well.
The cases raised a number of questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the United States and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying that it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.
“The virus is becoming more suitable, and we are like a deer in the headlights,” warned Dr. Eric Topol, Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. He noted that the United States does much less genetic sequencing of virus samples to detect variants than other developed countries, and was therefore likely to be slow to detect this new mutation.
The two guard members had been sent out on December 23 to work at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in the small town of Simla, in a rural area about 150 miles outside of Denver, says Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist. They were among six guard members sent home.
Nasal swabs taken from the two as part of the Guard’s routine coronavirus testing were sent to the state laboratory, which began looking for the variant after its spread was announced in the UK earlier this month, Herlihy said. Samples from staff and residents in nursing homes are also being examined for the variant in the lab, but so far no evidence has been found, she said.
The Colorado case, announced on Tuesday, involves a man in his 20s who had not traveled recently, officials said. He has mild symptoms and is isolating himself at his home near Denver, while the person with the suspected case is isolating at a hotel in Colorado while further genetic analysis is being done on his sample, officials said.
Nursing homes said it works close to the state and is also looking forward to starting vaccination next week.
Several states, including California, Massachusetts and Delaware, are also analyzing suspected virus samples for the variant, said Dr. Greg Armstrong, who directs genetic sequencing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said the CDC is working with a national laboratory that receives samples from across the country to broaden the search, with results expected within a few days.
The discovery in Colorado has placed greater emphasis on the country’s vaccination against COVID-19, which has killed more than 340,000 people in the United States
Britain is seeing infections soar and hospital stays are climbing to their highest levels. The variant has also been found in several other countries.
Researchers have not found any evidence that it is more deadly or causes more serious illness, and they believe that the vaccines now being issued will be effective against it. But a faster-spreading virus can surpass hospitals with seriously ill patients.
The discovery abroad led the CDC to issue rules on Christmas Day requiring travelers arriving from the UK to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test. But US health officials said the Colorado patient’s lack of travel history suggests the new variant is already spreading in this country.
Topol said it was too late for a travel ban.
“It simply came to our notice then. Colorado is probably one of many places it lands here, he said. “It’s everywhere. How can you ban travel from anywhere? ”
Colorado public health authorities are conducting contact tracing to determine the spread.
Researchers estimate that the variant is 50-70% more contagious, says Dr. Eric France, Colorado chef.
“Instead of just making two or three others sick, you can actually spread it to four or five people,” France said. “This means that we will have more cases in our communities. This number of cases will increase rapidly and, of course, with more cases will come more hospital stays. ”
London and the south-east of England were placed under strict lock-in measures earlier this month due to the variant, and dozens of countries banned flights from the UK. France also briefly blocked lorries from the UK before releasing them, provided the drivers were tested for the virus.
New versions of the virus have been seen almost since it was first discovered in China a year ago. It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. The fear is that mutations will one day be significant enough to defeat the vaccines.
South Africa has also discovered a highly contagious COVID-19 variant that is driving the country’s latest increase in cases, hospital stays and deaths.