While hospitalizations in the Coachella Valley begin to steady, concern is rising over new variant strains of the coronavirus.
Variants have been found in the UK and South Africa, and three different versions have been found in California.
“The finding of a variant like this really increases the urgency for us to collectively get the pandemic under control,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, a professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF.
Variants have also been reported in multiple states across the country.
In California, the CAL.20C strain was found in 36 percent of patients at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
Another, the L452R strain, was responsible for infecting 90 people in a hospital in San Jose.
Dr. Kinji Hawthorne, the director of infectious disease at JFK Memorial Hospital, says the mutations could be the reason behind the local surge in cases.
“I don’t think we’re certain if we’re seeing any of the increase in cases attributed to the new variant yet. Is it? Most likely yes. Because of the fact it can be transmitted much easier. It’s more than likely we are seeing it here in the valley but I don’t think it’s actually been confirmed here yet,” said Dr. Hawthorne.
While the variants are more contagious, so far, reports show they aren’t more deadly.
Dr. Hawthorne says, the vaccines should protect patients from the discovered mutations.
“The mutation is actually happening in the part of the virus that attaches to the cell to cause infection. So the vaccine produces different types of antibodies that are specifically targeting that part of the virus. So even if there is one change or mutation in that part of the virus, the vaccine should actually be effective,” said Dr. Hawthorne.
Experts say, the best defense against new strains is to vaccinate and sanitize, as with all viruses.
And Dr. Hawthorne says, COVID-19 will most likely continue to mutate throughout it’s existence.
“We will see new variants popping up just because that’s what viruses do, but it’s still to be determined whether or not it’s going to effect the likelihood of the virus creating more severe disease,” said Dr. Hawthorne.