It was only a matter of time, but after a couple of weeks in which the more-infectious strain of COVID-19 first detected in the U.K. was found in Southern California, it has been found in six people in the Bay Area.
Try not to panic, but the COVID strain known as B.1.1.7 that experts believe is 50% to 70% more transmissible than the original strains spreading last year, is in our midst, and the first six confirmed and suspected cases have been detected in Alameda County. The strain was already present in the state and had been detected in Southern California, along with at least 25 other states in recent weeks.
As the Chronicle reports, public health officials are saying the strain is likely more widespread than just these isolated cases in Alameda County, due to the fact that genetic testing to identify new strains isn't being done on every test sample.
County officials issued a statement trying to sound calm, saying, "While new variants are concerning, these reported cases do not appear to pose additional risk to Alameda County residents at this time."
Meanwhile, Public Health England says it has identified a mutation, called E484K, spreading among the B.1.1.7 strain in the U.K., which could potentially make it less susceptible to existing vaccines. And the Guardian ran the headline this week "The hurricane is coming," referring to the likely coming wave of new infections in the U.S. from this new strain.
On Sunday's Meet the Press, Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who served on Biden's transition team advising him on the pandemic, stated with some confidence that "The surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks." And he's the one who used the "hurricane is coming" line.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has publicly suggested the new strain is 30% deadlier than earlier ones, but scientists have yet to confirm that assertion.
What this means, as we discussed earlier this week, is that social distancing and other previous rules are all the more important right now — wear two masks! don't eat out with people from many different households! order your groceries delivered or plan ahead with shopping to make fewer trips!
And if cases start climbing again, due to this variant's ability to be more "sticky" once it enters a population, that could be a serious bummer on the reopening front — with Bay Area restaurants just now a few days into trying to get back to outdoor-dining semi-normalcy.
Be safe out there.