COVID coronavirus (Shutterstock).

California’s first cases of South African COVID variant found in Bay Area

Two cases of the more contagious COVID-19 variant first discovered in South Africa have been found in Alameda County and Santa Clara County, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

Newly identified COVID variants are a growing concern among health officials, since some can be contracted more easily and may reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines.

The two cases identified by the Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory through genomic sequencing are the first known cases of the South African variant in California.

As of Tuesday, there were nine other cases identified of this variant, also known as B.1.351, in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first U.S cases of the South African variant had been identified in South Carolina in January.

The case in Santa Clara was an adult who returned in mid-January after traveling internationally with a member of their household. They adhered to the county’s 10-day quarantine travel order and experienced symptoms days later. Only one member of household was tested, according to Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer and Director of Public Health for Santa Clara County. Cody said they remained quarantined for the duration of their infectious period.

There are fewer details about the Alameda case. Dr. Nicholas Moss, health officer for the County of Alameda, said the “investigation was still in progress.”

California previously identified another concerning variant first discovered in the United Kingdom, known as B.1.1.7. Newsom said there are 159 cases of the UK variant in California. There are also 1,203 identified cases of what’s called the West Coast variant, of which there are two types.

But the picture of variants is limited due to a lack of genomic sequencing.

“We have a limited picture,” Moss said. “Only a small fraction of COVID specimens are sequenced in the U.S., although this number is increasing. Efforts are underway in Alameda County and across California to systematically improve surveillance for variants of concern.”

“We expect to receive more reports from labs detecting such variants in the coming weeks,” Moss added.

As the variants become a concern across the nation, the CDC release a study Wednesday recommending better ways to mask to reduce the transmission of COVID. The study recommends double masking by wearing a cloth mask over a medical mask or knotting the ear loops on a medical mask to make a tighter fit.

Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco’s acting health officer, said Tuesday, “We know that the prevention methods that we have been talking about for a year are what will stop and slow the spread of these variants even before we are able to access the vaccine.”

California’s effort to vaccinate more people has been hampered by supply. To date, more than 5 million vaccines were administered in California. In San Francisco, about 101,000 residents have received their first doses, as of Wednesday.

“The issue of vaccinations is an issue of available supply nationwide,” Newsom said at a press conference in Fresno County. “The issue of scarcity is real.”

California is receiving about one million doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine each week, Newsom said. California received 1.08 million vaccines last week and expects to receive the same amount this week. Next week, the state expects to receive 1.2 million, Newsom said.

“At the end of the day, we are only receiving a little over one million a week,” Newsom said. “The last seven days, we’ve averaged 181,000 doses being administered every day. The last five days we’ve administered over one million doses.”

Newsom is promising improvements to the vaccine roll out under a new state contract with Blue Shield and Kaiser to take over management of the distribution of California’s vaccines. He said details of the contract will become public later this week and go into effect on Feb. 15.

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