California announced the first confirmed cases of a new, more contagious coronavirus strain on Wednesday, and the second was recorded in the United States within a day.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced the infection found in Southern California in an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I think the Californians shouldn’t think this is weird. This is expected,” said Fauci.
Newsom didn’t provide any other details about the infected person.
The first person known to be infected with this strain in the United States was identified on Wednesday as the Colorado National Guard sent to aid a nursing home struggling with an outbreak. Health officials said they could have a second guard too.
The case has raised a lot of questions about how the UK version arrived in the US and whether it is too late to stop now, and top experts say it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the US.
“The virus is getting more and more suitable and we are like deer in headlights,” warned Dr Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. He noted that the U.S. performs much less genetic sequencing of viral samples to detect strains than other developed countries, so it will probably be slow to detect this new mutation.
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Two guards were sent on December 23 to work at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in the small town of Simla, a mostly rural area outside Denver, said state epidemiologist Dr Rachel Herlihy. They were one of six guards sent home.
As part of Guard’s routine coronavirus screening, samples of nasal swabs from two people were sent to the main lab, which started looking for the strain after an outbreak was announced in the UK earlier this month, Herlihy said. Samples from nursing home staff and residents are also being screened for mutations in the lab, she said, but no evidence has been found so far.
The confirmed Colorado case, first announced on Tuesday, was the case of a man in his 20s who had not recently traveled, officials said. He has mild symptoms and is being quarantined at home near Denver, the suspected patient is being quarantined at a Colorado hotel and further genetic analysis of the sample is being performed, officials said.
The nursing home said it is working closely with the state and is looking forward to starting vaccinations next week.
Several states, including California, Massachusetts, and Delaware, are also analyzing suspicious virus samples for strains, said Dr. Greg Armstrong, director of genetic sequencing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said CDC is working with national laboratories that collect samples from across the country to broaden the search and expect results within days.
The discovery, discovered in Colorado, added urgency to the U.S. immunization push for Covid-19, which has killed more than 340,000 people in the United States.
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In the UK, infections are soaring and hospitalizations are rising to record highs. This variant has also been found in several other countries.
Scientists have found no evidence that it is more lethal or causes more serious disease, and they believe the vaccines currently distributed will be effective against it. However, a virus that spreads quickly can sweep hospitals as seriously ill.
Due to overseas discoveries, the CDC has issued regulations requiring travelers arriving from the UK on Christmas Day to show evidence of negative COVID-19 tests. However, U.S. health officials say the lack of travel records for Colorado patients suggests that the new strain is already spreading in the country.
Topol said it was too late to ban travel.
“We are lagging behind finding it. Colorado will be one of several places that have landed here,” he said. “It’s everywhere. How can I ban travel anywhere?”
Colorado health authorities are performing contact tracking to confirm the spread.
Researchers estimate that the strain is 50 to 70 percent more contagious, said Dr. Eric Frances, Colorado’s chief medical officer.
France says, “Instead of making only 2 or 3 others sick, you can spread it to 4 or 5 people. This means there are more examples in our community. The number of these cases will increase rapidly and of course, the more cases will be hospitalized, the more.
London and southeast England had strict lockdowns earlier this month due to the variant, and dozens of countries have banned flights from the UK. France also temporarily banned the truck before returning it from the UK if the driver had been tested for the virus.
The new version of the virus has been found almost since it was first discovered in China a year ago. It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they multiply and move through the population. The fear is that at some point the mutation will become important enough to defeat the vaccine.
South Africa has also discovered a highly contagious strain of Covid-19, which has surged in recent cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.