LOS ANGELES – Despite Tuesday’s confirmation that a new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Colorado, the strain has not yet been found in the Southland, but Los Angeles County’s public health director said there’s a good chance it’s already here.
Colorado’s confirmation of the new strain, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom, is the first detection of the variant in the United States. Colorado officials said the patient was a man in his 20s who had no recent history of traveling.
The new strain, known as B.1.1.7, is not thought to cause more severe illness than the original virus, but it is believed to be dramatically more contagious — meaning it is far more easily transmitted from one person to the next. Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said local health officials have tested a limited number of samples from COVID-positive patients, and “we have not found any evidence of the variant in that first group of tests that we ran.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not here,” Ferrer said. “It just means it didn’t show up in the first round of testing.
“… For all of us in public health, because there is so much spread right now and so many people who are infected — and we’re not running all of the samples through this sort of gene sequencing — it would be impossible for us to say with all certainty that the variant isn’t here,” Ferrer said. “And almost all of us, I think, agree that there’s a high probability that the variant is here, although at this point it doesn’t appear to be dominant, because if it was you might see it initially in the samples that are being run.
But Ferrer said even if the variant is in the county, it wouldn’t change the infection-control measures that are already in place.
“I think whether the variant is here or it isn’t here, the steps we need to take are exactly the same,” Ferrer said. “Whether the variant is slightly more infectious than the virus as we’re experiencing it now in the predominant strain we’re seeing here in L.A. County, the steps to take are the same. And the urgency is the same.
“There is a lot of community spread, and that makes it easier for this virus to keep spreading,” Ferrer said. “So we’re all going to have to do everything we know how to do to contain the virus.”