The end of the year has brought with it a mutated strain of COVID-19 which reared its head in the United Kingdom recently and could potentially be the cause of a current surge in coronavirus cases in California.
This weekend, a stunning 225,818 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the U.S., with troubling spikes specifically on the West Coast. In Los Angeles, the average number of daily cases was recorded at nearly 14,000 a day at most recent count.
The surge of infections has been so explosive that officials in L.A. are now testing samples of the virus in new patients there to see if they can find evidence of the new COVID-19 strain that scientists in the the U.K. say could be over 70 percent more transmissible.
From the Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said a public health laboratory has begun to do gene sequencing to test virus samples collected in L.A. County, but it will take about a week to finish the process.
COVID-19 has been surging out of control in Los Angeles County and other parts of California, overwhelming hospitals and killing more people each day. On Thursday, L.A. County saw its highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day: 140.
The spread has been so rapid since Thanksgiving, when many families defied public health guidelines and gathered in large groups, that some have wondered if something about the virus has changed. Officials believe the surge has been worsened by holiday gatherings but are also concerned about other factors, including people going out to shop.
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The CDC says that effective Monday, people traveling into the U.S. from the U.K. will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed to board flights. But given the ongoing travel that many people have been enjoying throughout the pandemic, it’s not hard to imagine that the new strain may have already been brought to American shores from across the Atlantic.
Scientists in the U.K say there is no evidence that the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it cannot be treated by the coronavirus vaccines that are now in circulation.
However, California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told the LA Times that the strain may be more likely to infect people who are exposed to it.
“The new, mutated COVID virus seems to bind a little tighter, a little more easily and enter the cell of the human body easier than our current COVID virus that we have here primarily in California and the United States,” he said.
Countries across Europe also instituted limitations against travelers from the U.K. after officials revealed the news of the new mutated strain last week, saying that it may be to blame for 60% of new COVID-19 infections in Britain.