A new strain of SARS-CoV-2 could be contributing to the outbreak in California, the New York Times reports.
California is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. Los Angeles County, for instance, has had more than 1 million cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, but two-thirds of those cases have occurred since November, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. It adds that there have been nearly 14,000 deaths.
Following the identification in the UK of a viral strain, B.1.1.7, that is suspected to be more easily transmitted, the Times reports that researchers at Cedars-Sinai began combing through patient samples to gauge how prevalent that strain was in Southern California. While they uncovered a few B.1.1.7 cases, they instead found a new viral strain — dubbed CAL.20C — that was more prevalent in the region. According to CBS News, by December, this strain was present in 36 percent of virus samples from Cedars-Sinai patients and nearly a quarter of all samples from Southern California.
The Times notes that these findings, which have not yet been published, suggest the CAL.20C may also be more transmissible, but it cautions that the variant's prevalence could also be due to chance.
In a statement, Cedars-Sinai's Wenjuan Zhang says she and her colleagues are "not sure what the new findings mean in terms of the infectivity and antibody resistance of the CAL.20C strain, which is important for follow-up studies that will need to be completed."