California tracking at least six COVID-19 variants as health experts urge precautions

Health officials in the state of California are tracking at least six COVID-19 variants, according to Governor Gavin Newsom.

"851 UK variants we have sequenced in the state, 10 South African variants, 35 Brazilian variants, close to 9,400 West Coast variants and we're also tracking a number of other variants including a new one from India and also mindful of variants coming from the east coast including a New York variant," Newsom said.

In Los Angeles County, the Department of Public Health identified one case of the South African variant and three cases of the Brazilian variant, both variants of concern.

RELATED: LA County reports first case of South African variant

The CDC classified both as variants of concern because they are associated with more transmissibility and reduced susceptibility to certain therapeutics.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer also reported the percent of weekly hospitalizations for younger people, between the age groups of 18-29 and 30-49 rose.

RELATED: Health officials confirm first case of COVID-19 UK variant in Pasadena

Health officials believe the rise in cases for younger people could be attributed to a number of factors including that older people are increasingly vaccinated and therefore well protected against the virus while some younger people have not yet met the eligibility requirements. Another reason could be young people are getting infected with the UK variant which is more transmissible.

"As more and more people in the older age groups have gotten vaccinated, the percent of older people in the hospitals has decreased and that also has been followed by corresponding increases in the percent of people who are in the hospital in our younger age groups," she said.

Ferrer also pointed to data from several other U.S. states. According to the Associated Press, nearly half of new Covid-19 infections in the U.S. come from five states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida, accounting for 44 percent of new cases in the country.

"We have to pay a lot of attention to what happens elsewhere. We don't live in a bubble here in LA County and in order for us to hold on to the gains we've made, we have to be more diligent, not less diligent," she said.

Riverside County health officials released an update on their COVID-19 infections, reporting a slight uptick in coronavirus hospitalizations, and 25 additional virus-related deaths as the county moved into the orange tier.

"The fact that we're seeing an uptick when the vaccination is being rolled out is truly worrisome because it means one of several things. The first, of course, everyone's tired of being at home. The weather was lovely over the past ten days so everyone's gone out and perhaps congregated and contracted the virus. The other worrisome part is there are resistant strains worldwide and so people have traveled and were exposed to the Brazilian variant, the South African variant," said Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, the Director of Infectious Diseases for Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center.  

Dr. Radhakrishna is urging patience.  

"It's [vaccine eligibility] opening up, next week everybody is going to be eligible in the state of California so we just have to wait. Just hold your horses is what I tell the younger crowd and I tell them just wait you're so close. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, 4 weeks after getting the vaccine you're protected. For Pfizer and Moderna, it's about a week to ten days after the second shot so you have to wait it out until you're fully protected," she said.

RELATED: Southern California Vaccine Finder: Where to get your COVID-19 shot

Dr. Anne Rimoin, a Professor of Epidemiology for the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health said the COVID-19 surges in several states across the country are expected.

"It's not surprising that we're going to see surges happen in various places across the country and as new variants become more predominant in different places, we're going to see increases just like we've seen in Michigan," said Rimoin.

Dr. Rimoin also spoke about the disproportionate increase in cases for younger people.

"We're seeing increases in younger populations who are not vaccinated and out and about. We've seen a lot of cases nationwide with schools reopening, sports coming back online, and with just a relaxing of restrictions in general. We've also seen a lot of travel from spring break so there is a lot of mixing of populations nationally and it's important to remember that an infection anywhere here in the United States is potentially an infection everywhere," said Rimoin.  Rimoin said virus mutations are also common.

"We know that this virus wants to replicate. That's what all viruses want to do and the way this virus is going to replicate is going into more people, by transmitting to other people, the more transmission occurs, the more likely we are to see mutations," she said.

Rimoin said it is important to follow COVID-19 guidelines such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

"The virus is circulating. It's more contagious now than ever so efforts to reduce the spread are going to be important," she said.

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