The Santa Clara County Public Health Department held a press conference Sunday to announce that the area is dealing with the growing threat of a new coronavirus variant that appears to be the source of several outbreaks in the county.
The variant is called L452R and it has been spotted in other counties, states, and countries. But it is not the same strain known as the B.1.1.7 variant which originated in the United Kingdom and subsequently has been detected in Southern California.
Health officials say that the L452R variant is the source of a deadly outbreak that spread through Kaiser San Jose starting on Christmas Day when someone who wore an inflatable holiday costume came into contact with several staff members and patients.
During the press conference, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody called the Kaiser outbreak unusual because of the high number of cases and how fast they multiplied.
"It seemed to spread quite fast. We are trying to understand whether the features of that outbreak are because of this variant. Does this variant of the virus behave in some different way?" Dr. Cody asked.
So far, health experts can’t say whether L452R spreads faster than the original strain but according to the Mercury News, the B.1.1.7 variant from the UK has been studied to be 80% to 90% more contagious.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department says L452R appears to be the source of outbreaks at other facilities like nursing homes and jails and it has also been found in the specimens taken at county testing sites.
The Mercury News spoke to Dr. Charles Chiu of UCSF who says L452R was first discovered in Alameda County in May. Chiu says the variant increased from 3.8% to 25% from mid-November to mid-December.
"It's concerning that we have a variant that was actually pretty uncommon prior to early December. Since then it is roughly 25 percent of all the cases that we're sequencing," said Dr. Chiu said.
Another question health experts can’t answer yet is what effect does the vaccine have on the new variant? Tests are currently being conducted to find out and should start coming out in the news in the next few weeks.