CHOMP Covid nurse

A nurse at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula checks in on a patient infected with Covid-19 in 2020.

A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has been identified in Monterey County and  other counties using genetic sequencing, the California Department of Public Health announced Sunday.

Discovered in other countries and states including California back in May, the variant identified as 452R, has been increasingly found in more counties since November, according to the CDPH. The variant been identified in several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County. It is different than the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

“The clinical and epidemiological significance of this strain is not known and is being investigated,” said Monterey County Health Officer Edward Moreno today in a county press release. “Also concerning is that this case represents the first local evidence of infection, recovery, and repeat infection.”

The California Department of Public Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control , local public health departments, and laboratory partners to learn more about the variant, including how it spreads and any potential impact on vaccine efficacy.

“It is common to identify variants of viruses like SARS-CoV-2, and we are working with our federal, local and university partners to better understand this variant and how it might impact Californians,” said State Epidemiologist Erica Pan in a CDPH press release.

“It’s too soon to know if this variant will spread more rapidly than others, but it certainly reinforces the need for all Californians to wear masks and reduce mixing with people outside their immediate households to help slow the spread of the virus," she said. "We also urge anyone who has been exposed to the virus to isolate from others to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Most recently the 452R variant was noted to contribute to an increasing proportion of Covid-19 cases in specimens sequenced by Charles Chiu, a virologist and professor of laboratory medicine at UC San Francisco, the CDPH said. Chiu has been sequencing cases from multiple counties across the state over the past several months as part of the state’s SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative known as COVIDNet.

“This variant carries three mutations, including L452R, in the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to and enter cells, and is the target of the two vaccines that are currently available in the United States,” said Chiu in the CDPH press release. Researchers are now prioritizing the variant for more study to determine if the virus is more infectious or affects vaccine performance.

Regardless of circulating variants of Covid-19, health officials are asking residents to take steps the limit transmission and reduce strain on health care systems. This includes staying home except for essential activities, wearing a mask when outside the home, limiting interactions with people from other households, physical distancing and washing hands.

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