Monday, May 3, 2021

Public Health: Highly Contagious UK COVID-19 Variant Likely Widespread in Humboldt

Posted By on Mon, May 3, 2021 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge County Health Officer Ian Hoffman - HUMBOLDT COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • Humboldt County Public Health
  • County Health Officer Ian Hoffman
Humboldt County Public Health announced this afternoon that there's growing evidence the more infectious B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, or the UK Variant, which was first discovered in Humboldt County last month, is circulating widely and to blame for a surge in local cases and hospitalizations.

“Our recent increase in cases shows just how contagious this variant is,” Health Officer Ian Hoffman said in a press release, adding that it’s believed to be the driver of significant outbreaks locally and around the country, most recently in Oregon and Michigan. “Until now, older adults experienced the most severe outcomes of COVID, but now we’re seeing younger people getting sicker and younger people being hospitalized.”

Public Health reported earlier today that it has confirmed 17 new COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past week, including one of a child between the ages of 10 and 19. The press release copied below also indicates "several" local patients have been transferred out of the county to receive specialized care.

Humboldt County has seen cases spike dramatically in recent weeks, which officials have attributed to several large outbreaks. After confirming 32 cases the week of April 5, the county's weekly case tallies increased to 71, 130 and last week's 137.

Today's press release notes that genomic testing has determined nine local cases are attributable to the UK variant, while another was found to be the P.1 (or Brazilian) variant. (The patient with the P.1 variant contracted it traveling outside the county, Public Health said, and isolated upon their return, so they do not believe it has spread further locally.)

The B.1.1.7 variant is believed to be up to 50 percent more contagious than the original form of COVID-19 and is now the predominant strain in California. Mutations to the 501st amino acid on the virus' spike proteins make it more effective at entering and infecting the human body. Here's how the Journal described it in previous reporting:

Imagine it like walking through a field of burs. There are times of year when the tiny hooks covering the little seeds aren’t fully formed and you might end up with just a few on your pants. But when those hooks or little teeth are fully developed, they can come to coat your pant legs and shoe laces. The spike proteins are similar and it’s believed the mutation to the 501st amino acid is akin to developing those burs, making it more likely any human cells that come into contact with the virus will become infected.

Public Health reports that the most effective way to limit the spread of the new variants — and COVID-19, generally — is to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is the most effective tool we have to stop this disease, and now is the time to get vaccinated. Make sure to receive both shots of a two-dose series so you have as much protection as possible," Hoffman said in the press release, adding that following public safety guidelines remains critically important. "Given how easily this variant spreads, we still need to wear masks in public, maintain distance and do everything we can to avoid large gatherings, especially indoors, until more of us are vaccinated. Committing to these safety measures as a community gives us our best chance to contain this outbreak and to protect our friends and neighbors from severe illness.”

Read the full press release from Public Health copied below:

May 3, 2021 - Highly Contagious B.1.1.7 Variant ‘Likely Circulating Broadly’ Locally
707-441-5000 ; covidinfo@co.humboldt.ca.us ; Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm Opens in new window
Highly Contagious B.1.1.7 Variant ‘Likely Circulating Broadly’ Locally;
Officials Urge Caution, Vaccination

A recent spike in local cases of COVID-19 has been tied to the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant, sometimes referred to as the UK variant. Humboldt County Public Health officials urge county residents to protect themselves and the community by following COVID-19 prevention measures and getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

Routine genomic sequencing first identified the B.1.1.7 variant locally late last month, and eight more cases have been identified so far. Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman noted that this variant was likely circulating broadly in the community before it was detected.

“Our recent increase in cases shows just how contagious this variant is,” Dr. Hoffman said, adding that it’s believed to be the driver of significant outbreaks locally and around the country, most recently in Oregon and Michigan. “Until now, older adults experienced the most severe outcomes of COVID, but now we’re seeing younger people getting sicker and younger people being hospitalized.”

Dr. Hoffman said that the county has seen a rapid rise in hospital admissions believed to be due to the variant. Seventeen people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at one point last week, including several who were transferred out of the county and several who were younger than previously seen hospitalized, including one child in the 10-19 age group.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the B.1.1.7 variant is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States. This variant is associated with a 50% increase in virus transmission and potentially leads to more severe illness as well as hospitalizations and deaths in unvaccinated people.

While more study is needed, data from manufacturers show the vaccines to be highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from variants of COVID-19.

Genomic sequencing also found a single case of the P.1 variant, sometimes called the Brazilian variant. This case was first diagnosed in mid-April and was acquired through out-of-county travel. Dr. Hoffman said it does not appear to have spread beyond that initial case. “This individual followed isolation guidance when they returned to Humboldt, and contact tracers have not identified any other local contacts,” he said. “This shows why travel is still risky and that public health measures can help to contain cases when they’re closely followed.”

More cases of the B.1.1.7 variant are expected when results from additional genomic sequencing are returned in the coming weeks, but Dr. Hoffman urged the community to take action now. “Vaccination is the most effective tool we have to stop this disease, and now is the time to get vaccinated. Make sure to receive both shots of a two-dose series so you have as much protection as possible,” he said.

“Given how easily this variant spreads, we still need to wear masks in public, maintain distance and do everything we can to avoid large gatherings, especially indoors, until more of us are vaccinated,” Dr. Hoffman said. “Committing to these safety measures as a community gives us our best chance to contain this outbreak and to protect our friends and neighbors from severe illness.”

Schedule an appointment at a Public Health vaccination clinic through MyTurn.ca.gov or through a local pharmacy at vaccinefinder.org

For the most recent COVID-19 information, visit cdc.gov or cdph.ca.gov. Local information is available at humboldtgov.org or by contacting covidinfo@co.humboldt.ca.us or calling 707-441-5000.

Some Safeway, CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Walgreen’s and Walmart locations are offering COVID-19 vaccination appointments. See if there are appointments available at one of these locations by clicking on the links below.

Safeway: mhealthappointments.com/covidappt
CVS Pharmacy: cvs.com/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine?icid=cvs-home-hero1-link2-coronavirus-vaccine
Rite Aid: https://www.riteaid.com/covid-19
Walgreen’s: walgreens.com/findcare/vaccination/covid-19
Walmart: walmart.com/cp/1228302

Sign up for COVID-19 vaccination: MyTurn.ca.gov
Vaccine Finder: VaccineFinder.org
Local COVID-19 vaccine information: humboldtgov.org/VaccineInfo
Humboldt County COVID-19 Data Dashboard: humboldtgov.org/Dashboard
Follow us on Facebook: @HumCoCOVID19
Instagram: @HumCoCOVID19
Twitter: @HumCoCOVID19
Humboldt Health Alert: humboldtgov.org/HumboldtHealthAlert

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About The Author

Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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