This is an on-going story and may be updated with any further developments.
Dr. Kristian Andersen, a microbiologist from the Andersen Lab of The Scripps Research Institute, confirmed on Wednesday, Dec. 30 that a sample tested by UC San Diego presented first evidence of the local circulation of the new coronavirus strain from the United Kingdom. The new COVID-19 variant known as lineage B.1.1.7 is much more contagious but is not believed to be more deadly.
A 30-year-old San Diego resident began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms on Sunday, Dec. 27. On Tuesday, Dec. 29, the person tested positive for the new coronavirus strain, the first confirmed case in California.
According to The San Diego Union Tribune, UCSD tests samples from many locations across San Diego County. It has not been confirmed whether the person who tested positive is directly connected to the university.
“We are determining whether the variant came from a student or someone else,” UCSD Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences David Brenner said to the SDUT.
At the County’s weekly COVID-19 press conference on Wednesday, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said that it is likely that there is already local spread of the new strain in the County since the resident had not recently traveled outside of San Diego.
“Because there is no travel history, we do not believe this is an isolated case,” Fletcher said. “There are probably other cases of the same strain in San Diego County. While it has been pointed out that there is not yet evidence that the strain has any more severe symptoms, there is significant evidence that it does spread considerably faster, that it is much more contagious.”
The new variant was first identified in southeastern England in September 2020. The mutation of the virus occurred on the genetic material that controls the spike protein that allows for penetration of host cells and causing infection.
A study released by a team of British scientists on Dec. 23 estimated the new coronavirus variant was 56 percent more contagious than the current COVID-19 strain. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested a more pessimistic initial estimate of 70 percent.
The first case of the new strain in the United States was confirmed on Tuesday in Colorado in Elbert County. The variant has been identified in other countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy.
UCSD students are encouraged to continue to maintain social distancing, wear masks, and follow public health guidelines. If you or another UCSD student would like to take an asymptomatic test, you can schedule an appointment with the university for free.
Photo taken by Erik Jepsen for UC San Diego