LOS ANGELES – A new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in the United Kingdom has been found in Southern California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, without offering specifics. The variant — which is no more dangerous than the original virus but is much more easily transmitted from person to person — was first found in the United States Tuesday in Colorado.
Newsom made the disclosure during an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. [View the video below.] Newsom did not offer any other details, and did not specify exactly where the variant, known as B.1.1.7, was detected.
Fauci said he was not surprised to hear the variant was found, saying, “we likely will be seeing reports from other states.”
“I don’t think Californians should feel this is something odd,” Fauci said. “This is something expected.”
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday local health officials had 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,” she 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,” she 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.”
UPDATE: Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says the more contagious variant of COVID-19 first detected in the United Kingdom has NOT yet been found in Los Angeles County.