New, more contagious strain of coronavirus fuels spike in Southern California cases

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LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — On Monday, California became the first state to surpass 3 million cases of COVID-19, less than a month after surpassing 2 million right around Christmas.

According to new research from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, yet another new variant strain has fueled the spike in Southern California.

“It just exploded, or took over the local prevalence of the population, over the last two months — November and December, and this coincided right with the big spike in cases,” said Dr. Eric Vail of Cedars-Sinai.

Researchers there say the new local variant — CAL20C — is yet another mutation of COVID-19. And like the other variants that have also been detected in California, it is more contagious and on the move.

“What’s unique about this strain is that it carries five mutations that we can identify to be this CAL20C strain,” said Dr. Jasmine Plummer of Cedars-Sinai. “And that there are mutations within this S protein and that I think requires more investigation because this is kind of the spike protein with which antibodies and vaccinations are being targeted against.”

Doctors suspect CAL20C may soon account for about half of the state’s cases. 

In a news conference Tuesday, California’s top doctor Mark Ghaly said there is great concern over the various mutations, including L452R which has been prevalent in Santa Clara County.

“Working to determine whether this variant, similar to the U.K. variant, has any increase in infectiousness, what its impact might be on vaccinations and other areas of concern,” said Ghaly.

While California’s rate of transmission and death remain among the country’s worst, Ghaly says numbers are stabilizing.

State and federal experts continue to encourage mitigation and vaccination in fighting off the new mutant strains along with the U.K. variant.

“Thus far, the Brits tell us that it doesn’t seem to be something that has eluded or escaping from the protection that is afforded by the vaccines that we are using,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Because of the soaring death toll in Los Angeles County, there is a backlog of nearly 3,000 bodies. Air quality regulators have lifted limits on cremations to allow them to happen at a faster rate.

Based on current numbers, there is a COVID-19 death in Los Angeles County about every seven minutes.

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