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New, highly contagious coronavirus strain arrives in California, as state passes 25,000 deaths


A new, highly contagious strain of the coronavirus was identified in #Southern #California on #Wednesday, marking a troubling discovery that came as the state surpassed 25,000 deaths in the pandemic and braced for another surge of post-holiday cases.

The coronavirus variant, known as “B117” and first found in the #United #Kingdom, is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible than earlier strains.

The first case in the U.S. was found in #Colorado on #Tuesday, but public health officials believe it’s probably been circulating undetected in the country for some time.

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“Even though it’s only been identified now, I suspect it’s been around at least since #September,” said #John #Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC #Berkeley.

The #California case was identified in a patient in #San #Diego #County who had no known travel history, meaning the person was exposed to the strain in the community. #Public health officials are investigating the case.

“I’m not surprised you have a case, and likely more cases,” said #Dr. #Anthony #Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, in a virtual meeting with #Gov. #Gavin #Newsom on #Wednesday afternoon during which the #California case was announced. “I don’t think that #Californians should feel that this is something odd. #This is something that’s expected.”

#Still, it was discouraging news as the most populous parts of the state, including all of #Southern #California, reported their 13th straight day of being over capacity in intensive care beds. #Many facilities are running way over capacity, doubling up patients in rooms and caring for very ill people in converted gift shops and waiting areas.

#In the #Bay #Area, intensive care availability took another precipitous dive on #Wednesday, dropping to 7.5% and offering a grim reminder that even as coronavirus cases appear to level off across the region, the pressure on hospitals remains intense. The hospital situation will likely worsen due to post-Christmas and #New #Year’s #Eve spikes in cases.

#Deaths continue to climb, as well. The state reported a new daily record of 442 deaths on #Tuesday. #December has been the deadliest month in the pandemic so far, with nearly four times as many deaths from COVID-19 as reported in #November.

“People are seeing slight reductions in overall cases, but that is not what we see statewide,” said #Dr. #Mark #Ghaly, secretary of #California #Health and #Human #Services, in a news briefing #Wednesday. #Hospitals in #Southern #California and the #San #Joaquin #Valley “will need to prepare for additional patients coming from #Hanukkah and #Christmas, and … what we hope is much lower degree of transmission over the #New #Year’s holiday.

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“Those hospitals are in a tough spot at the moment,” he said.

#New virus strain

The new coronavirus variant could further hamper control of the state surge in cases because it is so much more infectious, public health experts said. #However, there is no evidence that it causes more serious disease.

“There’s absolutely no evidence to date that it causes more serious illness,” #Swartzberg said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t find evidence. #But I don’t think it’s going to happen because we would have noticed it.”

The fact that the #Colorado case was reported in a man who had no travel history helps confirm the theory that “this variant has been transmitting from person to person in the #United #States,” according to #Dr. #Henry #Walke, CDC incident manager.

#While it does not appear to cause more severe illness, he said, the variant is more contagious, potentially putting “even more strain on our heavily burdened health care systems.”

#Swartzberg said it is possible the undetected strain is one of the major contributing factors behind the current surge of cases in #California.

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“Why did things start to ramp up in #October?” he said. “It does raise the question. #Could this new strain be another reason why this exploded?”

#Cases and deaths

The rate of new cases per 100,000 residents has dropped off across the state and in the #Bay #Area this week, hovering just under 100 for #California and at about 50 for the #Bay #Area.

#For the state, that’s still far above the national average of about 60 cases per 100,000 residents a day. #But it’s an improvement from last week, when #California was averaging about 115 cases per 100,000 residents a day.

#California reported a new record of 66,811 cases on #Monday, but much of that was due to lags in reporting over #Christmas. #Indeed, much of the case reporting this week is likely less precise than usual due to counties slowing down operations between #Christmas and #New #Year’s.

#Statewide, 25,033 people have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 2,478 in the #Bay #Area. #Despite the large numbers of deaths reported this month, #California still has one of the lower death rates in the country: about 64 deaths per 100,000 residents since the pandemic began, compared to a national average of about 100 deaths per 100,000.

#Hospitals and intensive care

#Statewide ICU availability remained at 0% on #Wednesday for the sixth straight day.

There are still open ICU beds in the state, but the #California #Department of #Public #Health uses a complex algorithm to determine capacity, based in part on the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized. #That algorithm, combined with so many hospitals in hard-hit parts of the state being far over capacity, means the state’s net availability is zero.

ICU availability in the #Bay #Area dropped sharply overnight, from 10.4% on #Tuesday to 7.5%. #Greater #Sacramento had about 17.4% ICU availability and the sparsely populated #Northern #California region had 31.5% availability.

#About 2,050 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the #Bay #Area as of #Tuesday — the first time that number has passed 2,000 since the pandemic began, and more than double the peak of the summer surge. #About 20,612 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide.

#Things could get worse as the state sees an uptick in cases resulting from travel and gatherings over #Christmas and #New #Year’s #Eve.

“While things are bad now, they are going to get really, really worse in #January,” #Swartzberg said. “It’s an easy prediction to make. #We know travel is like throwing gasoline on the fire. #We saw what happened in #Thanksgiving. #January is going to be hell.”

#Erin #Allday and #Aidin #Vaziri are #San #Francisco #Chronicle staff writers. #Email: [email protected], [email protected] #Twitter: @erinallday, @SFMusic





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https://www.sfchronicle.com/health/article/New-highly-contagious-coronavirus-strain-arrives-15837064.php

#highly #contagious #coronavirus #strain #arrives ##California #state #passes #deaths

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