New COVID-19 variant found in California

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (NEXSTAR) – A case of the new coronavirus strain that spread quickly in the United Kingdom has been confirmed in California, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.

Governor Newsom made the announcement during an afternoon press conference with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said he was not surprised.

“I don’t think Californians should think that this is odd; it’s to be expected,” Fauci said.

Newsom said the case was detected in Southern California but did not provide any other details about the person who was infected with the mutated version of the virus.

The news comes after Colorado officials confirmed Wednesday the first person in the U.S. known to be infected with the new and – apparently more contagious – variant. That individual was identified as a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak. Health officials said Wednesday a second Guard member may have it, too.

The cases have triggered a host of questions about how the mutant version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.

“The virus is becoming more fit, and we’re like a deer in the headlights,” warned Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute. He noted that the U.S. does far less genetic sequencing of virus samples to discover variants than other developed nations do, and thus was probably slow to detect this new mutation.

The case in California comes as the state ins consumed by a growing pandemic crisis, including record deaths.

Hospitals are increasingly stretched by soaring infections that are expected to grow in coming weeks. Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley have what is considered no intensive care capacity to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus. And state health officials remain worried about gatherings tied to New Year’s Eve.

But hope is on the horizon as vaccines roll out.

The statewide transmission rate has fallen to the point where one infected person is in turn infecting just one other individual, a development that Newsom called encouraging while warning that rates in central and Southern California remain much higher and the trend could reverse from holiday gatherings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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