In a briefing on Friday afternoon, Fresno County Department of Public Health officials said they were informed by the state that three people have tested positive for the UK coronavirus variant, or “B.1.1.7” as it is officially known.
“In many ways, it is as if we are in the first few months of the epidemic again,” said Dr Rice Vohra, Fresno County’s health official.
Contact trackers at the Ministry of Health have already reached all of the people infected with the variant and are working to isolate people with whom they may have been in contact.
B.1.1.7 is one of the so-called “variables of concern” and has been found to be 40 to 80 percent more transmissible. It was first detected in the UK as it spread rapidly and caused a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.
“We don’t know if this is the predominant strain,” said Dr. Vohra. “This is definitely the source of concern – if this becomes a prevalent breed, then this will actually lead to a real decline in terms of our ability to care for people.”
Health officials said the coronavirus variant not only spreads more easily than others, but is also more deadly. They acknowledged that the three cases are likely “just the tip of the iceberg”, and there may be many other cases of these variable strains that cause COVID cases in Fresno County.
Dr Vohra said case rates are declining, but he said they are now starting to stabilize, which he blames in part for the variables.
Health officials said vaccinations will help prevent further spread, but they are also asking residents to continue to take precautions.
“Don’t let your guard down. We are still at the ‘purple’ level or community prevalence that’s prevalent here in Fresno County compared to the rest of the state. So we still have a lot of infections reported every day,” Vohra said.
Research is still ongoing on how effective each vaccine is against the British variant, but experts believe they all help protect people from contracting severe disease.
Provincial health officials say that so far more than 320,000 vaccine doses have been given in Fresno County and an additional 39,000 doses will arrive next week.
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