California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds up a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in Los Angeles, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
More cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 strain from the United Kingdom have been discovered in Southern California, and more still are expected to be uncovered by genetic sequencing in the coming days, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday afternoon.
After the first case in California was discovered in San Diego last week, the known total has grown to six statewide — four in San Diego and two more in San Bernardino — and one person infected with the mutated strain has been hospitalized.
With California sequencing between 5,000 and 10,000 virus samples each week, Newsom said he anticipates there will be more new cases of the variant to report, possibly as soon as late Monday.
“We imagine, in fact, one should just anticipate, that there will be others identified,” Newsom said, adding that he expected state officials to provide an update by the following day on the state’s genomic testing that is being conducted to “understand more comprehensively what this strain looks like and what it’s been doing.”
The new strain is believed to be more contagious but not cause more severe impacts or health conditions, Newsom said.
So far, despite ongoing genomic testing at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub at UC San Francisco, the new variant has not yet been found in the Bay Area, or anywhere outside of Southern California. It’s unlikely to go undiscovered for long anywhere in California, Newsom said.
“We do very comprehensive genomics testing here in California,” Newsom said. “I see some national news on this saying America doesn’t do this because as part of this country, California has been doing a lot of genomics testing.”
The governor’s announcement comes as California’s average daily case count has plateaued below its pre-Christmas peak but the state’s daily death toll and the rate of tests coming back positive continue to swell.
On average over the past week, California has reported approximately 35,760 new cases per day, almost 15% fewer than two weeks ago. However, during that same time frame, its seven-day positivity rate has risen two-tenths of a point to 13.5%.
The past seven days in California have been its deadliest of the pandemic, and public health experts believe the worst is yet to come, as new cases and hospitalizations tied to ill-advised holiday gatherings are tallied.
“This week is critical in terms of bigger understanding where we are and if we’re going to hit that surge on top of a surge on yet another surge,” Newsom said.
As of Monday, California has received about 1.29 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but only about 454,000 have been distributed. It is unclear at this point whether the sluggish campaign is due to healthcare workers and nursing home residents turning down a vaccine or other planning impediments.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Monday that state officials are working with county health departments and healthcare systems to develop a more detailed blueprint to address inefficiencies and expedite the distribution of vaccines.
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