The warm weather over the last weekend of March was reminiscent of summertime, as were the large crowds gathering at beaches and restaurant parklets. It was good for business, but also good for the spread of the Covid-19 virus, especially its variants that in some cases are more easily transmissible and potentially more deadly than the original.
On March 29, the increase of U.S. cases had Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky warning of “impending doom,” especially because of the rise of “variants of concern” like the B.1.1.7 strain which is considered more deadly. More than 400 cases have been reported statewide, including some in neighboring counties like Santa Clara and San Luis Obispo.
“These strains are here in California and we need to be very vigilant, we don’t want these strains to take hold in Monterey County and spread,” says county Epidemiologist Kristy Michie.
So far the B.1.1.7 strain has not been detected here, but what’s known as the West Coast Strain – made up of two closely related strains – is prevalent, accounting for an estimated 30 to 70 percent of cases depending on the week. Michie says the Monterey County Public Health Lab performed genotyping on frozen samples and found evidence of the West Coast Strain present locally since November. The CDC reports the strain is 20-percent more transmissible and some antibody treatments are less effective.
Michie says vaccines will help because they produce more than one antibody response, meaning that even if a mutated virus is introduced, the body’s immune system should recognize and attack the variant. About 35 percent of the county’s residents aged 16 and older have had at least one dose of the vaccine as of March 30. A large increase in vaccine doses is expected to arrive by mid-April.
With the Easter holiday the weekend of April 3-4, Michie says people should reconsider their plans for gathering, especially in light of more serious strains now circulating and the fact that even when vaccinated it’s still possible to contract the virus.
“These viruses are here in our backyard,” she says. “My worry is it will cause another surge in Monterey County, and I don’t think anyone wants that to happen.”