LA COVID-19 test samples show ‘worrying variants’

Most of the coronavirus samples tested in Los Angeles County last week were found to be variants believed to spread more easily, authorities said.

While the recent round of screening comes with caveats: The sample size of 73 is a fraction of the new infections that are confirmed across the county each day, and the samples themselves were not randomly selected, it indicates that some viral mutations continue to circulate throughout the county. .

“The fact that most of the samples sampled are worrisome variants suggests that these variants are increasingly widespread in our community,” County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday. “And it emphasizes the importance of adhering to safety measures such as masking, social distancing and routine hand washing to avoid increasing the chances that variants of concern will become more prevalent.”

Health officials fear that further spread of the most infectious mutations could fuel another surge that the county and California cannot afford after emerging from the devastating fall and winter wave so recently.

Of the 73 samples tested at the county’s public health laboratory last week, 21 were found to be a particularly worrisome and highly contagious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in the UK.

That variant, known as B.1.1.7, is believed to be up to 50% more transmissible than other widely circulated variants, and a study published this month in the journal Nature suggests it is 61% more likely to cause a serious illness or death.

Twenty-five other test samples showed the California variant, known to scientists as B.1.427 / B.1.429.

Like the UK variant, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially called it a “worrying variant” as studies have found the strain to be about 20% more transmissible. than other widely circulated variants.

Ferrer said the latest results in Los Angeles County should be interpreted “very carefully.”

“This is a convenient sample, which means that in some cases we are sampling specimens because we have been asked to sample their variants, sometimes it is because there may be an association with a group and we are trying to find out if there are variants with that. group, ”he said during a briefing. “But it is not a scientifically selected random sample.

However, he added that “it is probably very safe to say that there are more variants circulating now than at the beginning of the year.”

“That is what worries everyone,” he said. “If we keep our case numbers low, we also reduce the transmission of variants.”

Of the 871 sequencing tests the county has conducted to date, 379 specimens were found to be the California variant and 76 have been the UK variant, according to figures Ferrer released on Wednesday.

The county has yet to find any cases of two other worrisome variants: P.1, from Brazil, or B.1.351, from South Africa.

Nationwide, during the four-week period ending February 27, 12.9% of genomically sequenced coronavirus samples were identified as the California variant, while 9.5% turned out to be the California variant. UK, based on CDC data.

Times staff writer Melissa Healy contributed to this report.

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