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Flu cases also rise; 171 reported in past week, with several patients contracting both COVID-19 and flu.

Local hospitals are cancelling organ transplants and cancer surgeries due to COVID-patients filling up hospital ICU beds.

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Dr. Kristian Anderson of Scripps Research speaks on the newly discovered UK strain

December 30, 2020 (San Diego) – A new, fast-spreading strain of COVID-19 first identified in the United Kingdom has been confirmed in San Diego County.  A 30-year-old local man who has not traveled outside our county has tested positive for the new strain known as B.1.1.7., the County Health and Human Services Agency announced today.

Also today, the Governor extended the stay-home order for another three weeks with Southern California’s intensive care unit (ICU) bed availability at zero. The order will remain in effect until ICU availability is at least 15%.

Dr. Kristian Andersen, of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research, where the new virus was identified in lab testing, stated, “We need to prepare” in anticipation of the new variant spreading rapidly here as it has in Britain, where the new virus prompted other European nations to bar travelers from the UK. 

San Diego-area hospitals are now postponing organ transplants and removal of cancerous tumors due to the strain on hospitals and ICU units.

"Going out to party on New Year’s Eve during a global pandemic is putting your life at risk and the lives of your friends and family,” said Supervisor Greg Cox in his final press conference, since he leaves office in early January due to term limits. He also urged everyone to get the flu vaccine to help ease the strain on hospitals.

While flu rates are lower than last years, they are on the rise; 171 cases were reported in the past week and several patients were confirmed to have both COVID-19 and the flu.

Although the new virus strain  is more contagious than the original virus, thus far it does not appear to be more lethal or to cause more serious complications. At this time, it is also believed that the vaccines currently available will offer protection against this and other newly emerging variants. Scientists continue to study the new strains of the novel coronavirus to determine their potential impact.

“The B.1.1.7 strain is here, and San Diegans can protect themselves against it by doing the same things they have been asked to do since the pandemic began,” said Eric McDonald, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of the County Epidemiology and Immunizations Services branch. “Everyone should stay home and avoid any gatherings over the New Year’s holiday. The best way to celebrate is to be sure that everyone stays healthy in 2021.”

The man was tested on Dec. 29 after two days of symptoms; results showed a characteristic pattern that indicated it could be the new UK strain. The specimen was immediately sent to Scripps Research and whole genome sequencing determined Dec. 30 that it is the UK variant. San Diego is only the second place in the United States confirmed to have the UK variant, after Colorado.

The patient is not hospitalized and is currently isolated. The County’s case investigation has identified household contacts who are being quarantined and tested for the novel coronavirus. The man had little interaction with people outside his household while potentially contagious.

Since the new strain has a higher rate of transmission, it could lead to an increase in cases in the region. With New Year’s Eve tomorrow, County health officials say San Diegans to do the following now more than ever:

  • Wash your hands
  • Wear a mask
  • Keep your distance from others and leave your household only for essential activities
  • If you’re sick, get tested, and then stay home and isolate yourself

Another 2,448 cases of COVID-19 were reported today by San Diego County, along with 37 more deaths.  In the past week, 55 community outbreaks were confirmed. Of nearly 24,000 tests, 10% had positive results.

The more detailed data summaries found on the County’s website are updated around 5 p.m. daily.


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