Santa Clara County health officials confirmed on Thursday that the first case of the "P.1" variant, first identified in Brazil, has been found in the Bay Area.
The COVID patient whose infection was from the Brazilian-born variant had returned in mid-March from traveling outside of California, but within the United States. And the county used the announcement to reiterate that "non-essential travel is strongly discouraged."
As the Chronicle reports, the news came from Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer for Santa Clara County, who gave a press conference Thursday.
"We want to really recommend people not travel. We strongly, strongly discourage travel for this very reason,” Dr. Fenstersheib said. "Going out to other parts of the country, other parts of the globe, there is the chance of getting exposed and perhaps bringing back one of those variants."
The P.1 variant has been blamed for a deadly surge of COVID infections in Brazil, and it appears to evade the body's immune response if a patient was already infected with one of the earlier strains of the virus. The variant is, therefore, the most concerning of the widely seen variants to public health officials and epidemiologists.
The Santa Clara County case was the sixth confirmed case of P.1 in California, and the first in the Bay Area. As NBC Bay Area reports, as of March 20, Santa Clara County has also seen 19 confirmed cases of the UK variant, also referred to as B.1.1.7; and two cases of the South African variant, also known as B.1.351. Both variants have been shown to be more infectious, and possibly somewhat more deadly, than the original strains of COVID, and experts have warned that one of these could soon become the dominant strain across the U.S. though that doesn't yet appear to be the case.
It still hasn't been confirmed whether the three currently approved vaccines are going to be significantly less effective if a vaccinated person is exposed to the P.1 variant. Pfizer and Moderna have said that their mRNA vaccines should be strongly effective against all three variants, and as New Scientist reports, there are early indications that the two vaccines are only slightly less effective against the P.1 variant. Data remains incomplete, but Johnson & Johnson's vaccine was found to be slightly less effective overall in Latin America at preventing moderate and mild cases, though it still was highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death.