As businesses open after cases have declined over the past two months, Santa Clara County health official Dr. Sara Cody has urged residents to avoid travel, continue to wear face masks and to avoid crowds and indoor activities with others, fearing that cases will swell again before enough people are vaccinated.
“We’re back in a bit of a precarious place when it comes to our ability to curb this pandemic,” Cody said. “We all have cabin fever, we all want to get out, we all want to get our lives back, but we can’t do it yet.”
County officials said the four most disturbing variants were circulating in the county. As of March 27, there were 92 confirmed cases of the UK variant in the Bay Area’s most populous county, up from 15 in mid-March. There have been three confirmed cases of the South African variant, up from two in mid-March. There has been one case of the Brazil variant and over 1,000 confirmed cases of the pair known as the California or West Coast variant.
In addition, the county on Thursday reported its first two cases of the two New York variants, seen as less threatening “variants of interest.”
The announcement came on the same day that California opened eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults 50 and older, though most areas, including Santa Clara County, continue to be plagued by shortages and many of those who were already eligible were unable to schedule a pull.
Cody said that “we are in a race between the variants and the vaccine,” as health officials struggle to get vaccines to as many people as possible as quickly as possible to prevent another outbreak.
Several variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been of concern as they have been shown to spread more easily among people and be more resistant to current vaccines.
The most infectious variant on the west coast of California is now the dominant variant in the state, and has been shown to thwart protective antibodies used in vaccines, according to a study from the University of California at San Francisco. and therapies.
The Centers for Disease Control called it a “variant of concern,” with others first identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, after receiving the one shot shot from Johnson and Johnson Thursday morning in Los Angeles, said “we have to be careful” about the new variants and their potential to spark a new wave of cases. Several states, including Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have seen an increase in infections.
“We are very aware, we are very concerned about these changes,” Newsom said Thursday. He noted that if California has opened up as case rates decline, its plan to reopen helps reverse that with more trade and activity restrictions if needed.
“If we see the numbers increase, the master plan allows us to go back,” Newsom said.
Variants occur when the virus reproduces in infected people, with occasional changes that in some cases can make it more infectious or more resistant to the body’s defenses.
No coronavirus variant currently achieves the highest threat level of “high consequence variant” for strains with proven vaccine efficacy.
The west coast variant – this is actually a pair, known as B.1.427 and B.1.429 – was found to be about 20% more infectious than the original virus, according to the UCSF study. The UK and South African variants are believed to be up to 50% more transmissible.
The British variant, known as B.1.1.7, has been found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and is fast becoming the dominant variant in the country.
The South African strain, known as B.1.351, which appears to be more contagious and more resistant to some vaccines, originally appeared in Santa Clara County in February and was linked to travel. A second case emerged in mid-March, the fourth in the state, and is believed to have resulted from transmission within the community.
The South African variant is able to escape the AstraZenca vaccine, which is currently not licensed in the United States, although two other vaccines currently in use by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson offer some protection. But the South African variant has not really gained a foothold in the United States.
According to the latest count from the California Department of Public Health, there are now a total of 8,800 statewide cases of the two variants known as the West Coast strain, 474 of the British strain, six of the Brazilian strain, known as P.1, and four from the South African strain.