Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that a variant of COVID-19, first identified in South Africa, has been discovered in the Bay Area, one in Alameda County and another in Santa Clara County.
The Santa Clara County case involved an adult who had traveled internationally, returned in mid-January, and then was quarantined, said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County Health Officer.
The person began to develop symptoms “a few days” after their return and was tested. Health officials learned Wednesday morning that the person had the variant based on the results of genome sequencing.
“The encouraging news of our demise is that this person will be quarantined immediately upon their return,” said Cody. “Therefore we do not know of any possibilities for further dissemination in our community.”
The Alameda County case was a resident diagnosed with COVID-19 in January and later found the variant. It wasn’t immediately clear if the person had recently traveled internationally.
“Our investigation is still ongoing, but we can say that this person is no longer contagious to others,” said Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County’s Health Officer.
At this point, the two cases are not believed to be linked, Cody said.
In total, the state has fewer than 1,500 identified cases of various variants, Newsom said.
Scientists and health officials fear the variants could be more contagious, less responsive to treatments, and more likely to re-infect people who already had the virus. The variant from South Africa was first identified in the United States in South Carolina late last month.
“The problem of mutations is paramount,” Newsom said during a visit to Fresno, the latest in a series of stops across the state to highlight vaccination efforts.
That was on a weak note in an otherwise upbeat news conference when Newsom announced that infection rates, hospital stays and cases in California continue to decline rapidly.
Less than 5% of people tested are now showing positive results, and the daily confirmed cases of infection have dropped from a high of more than 50,000 a month ago to around 8,400, he said. More than 5 million doses of vaccine have been given.
Local and state-elected officials, mostly Democrats, showered Newsom with praise for its handling of the coronavirus.
A protester using a megaphone shouted “Recall Gavin” during the press conference, a reference to the ongoing signature-gathering effort that will likely get enough support to enable voters to turn to the freshman Democrats later this year to keep or to dismiss.
“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, I care that you are healthy and safe,” Newsom replied when asked to respond to the recall.
He said he has focused on getting kids back to school, vaccinating Californians, and reducing case rates so businesses can reopen.
Speaking of schools, Newsom said it will soon announce a reopening plan that has been worked out in collaboration with lawmakers.
Most districts, however, have rejected Newsom’s earlier reopening plan, and it was not clear whether or how the plan could force districts to open up to face-to-face teaching as schools are under local control.
Newsom’s Vaccination Road Tour came as California prepared to shift operations from a statewide vaccination effort to a centralized approach from Blue Shield of California. Newsom said the state will release the contract with the major health insurer this week and the new program will be operational next week.
The aim of the new approach is to better collect data on who is being vaccinated and to create more transparency about how much vaccine is going where, he said.
Biden’s government is now giving the state a three-week preview of how many doses of vaccine to expect, and the state is trying to give counties a similar forecast.
“That’s dynamic and as you know, we’ve had seizures and starts for the past few months,” Newsom said.
It’s not clear how the new state vaccination system will work with systems already in place by counties, including portals where people can sign up for vaccinations.
Santa Clara County has applied for an exemption from the state filing portal MyTurn. Orange County’s health authorities said they don’t want to ask that people who have already signed up for appointments with the county system have to sign up with the state again.