https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article ... d-u-k.htmlNew COVID Strain Spreading Across U.S.: What We Know
By Matt Stieb, Jan. 22, 2021
A new variant of the coronavirus believed to spread more easily has forced the United Kingdom into another lockdown and been detected in at least 33 countries, including the United States. Many of the U.S. cases have no known travel history — meaning the strain is spreading throughout communities. The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is not expected to be resistant to the vaccines rolled out in December, though scientists are racing to learn more about the mutation — and where it has already spread. Below is a primer for the public-health and political ramifications of the concerning development.The B.1.1.7 (U.K.) strain has been found in at least 21 U.S. states
The first U.S. cases of B.1.1.7. were identified in Colorado on December 29. On December 31, Florida health officials confirmed that a man in his 20s with no history of traveling had tested positive for the new COVID strain. These infections were shortly followed by California officials reporting six cases within the state: two in the same household in the Big Bear area east of Los Angeles and four in San Diego County. (One of the two Big Bear patients had contact with a person who returned from the U.K.) On January 4 and 5, New York and Georgia reported B.1.1.7. cases in patients with no travel history.
As of January 21, multiple cases of the strain have been detected in 14 states, including Florida, California, New York, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Tennessee. Single cases have been detected in seven other states.
Previously, the Centers for Disease Control has warned that the U.K. variant may already be spreading within the United States, because there is still ongoing travel between the nations and because scientists have not sequenced the genetic coding of the vast majority of cases. And on January 3, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that the new strain could account for the majority of new cases in the U.S. by March.How is this COVID strain different?
The variation found in the U.K., also known as “VUI – 202012/01” was first identified there in mid-September, according to the World Health Organization. Its mutations have occurred on the genetic material that controls the spike protein, which allows COVID and other similar viruses to penetrate host cells, causing infection.
According to the U.K.’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, there are 23 changes in the virus’s genetic material, an unusually large number that appears to be helping it spread more quickly. British officials have now estimated that the strain is as much as 70 percent more transmissible — a number that is based on modeling, but not yet confirmed in lab experiments. A later study, published on December 23, suggested a smaller, but still dangerous number: that the British mutation is 56 percent more contagious. Still, other scientists have expressed skepticism that the mutation necessarily means it is more transmissible, pointing to other potential explanations such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2 ... -homegrownCould a homegrown coronavirus strain be partly to blame for California’s surge?
By Melissa Healy, Rong-Gong Lin II, Jan. 23, 2021
California scientists have discovered a homegrown coronavirus strain that appears to be propagating faster than any other variant on the loose in the Golden State.
Two independent research groups said they stumbled upon the new strain while looking for signs that a highly transmissible variant from the United Kingdom had established itself here. Instead, they found a new branch of the virus’ family tree — one whose sudden rise and distinctive mutations have made it a prime suspect in California’s vicious holiday surge.
As they pored over genetic sequencing data in late December and early January, the two teams saw evidence of the new strain’s prolific spread leap off their spreadsheets. Though focused on different regions of the state, they uncovered trends that were both remarkably similar and deeply worrying.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that although the strain had been barely detectable in early October, it accounted for 24% of roughly 4,500 viral samples gathered throughout California in the last weeks of 2020.
In a separate analysis of 332 virus samples culled mostly from Northern California during late November and December, 25% were of the same type.
“There was a homegrown variant under our noses,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, a laboratory medicine specialist at UC San Francisco who examined the samples from the northern part of the state with collaborators from the California Department of Public Health. Were they not on the hunt for the U.K. strain and other viral variants, he said, “we could have missed this at every level.”
The new strain, which scientists have dubbed B.1.426, bears five mutations in its genetic code. One of them, known as L452R, alters the virus’ spike protein, the tool it uses to infiltrate human cells and turn them into virus-making factories.
Over multiple generations, even a small improvement in this ability will help a virus propagate more easily through a population, driving up infections, hospitalizations and deaths.