California health officials identify COVID-19 variant linked to several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A COVID-19 variant first found in other countries and states has been showing up in increasing numbers throughout California, health officials with the California Department of Public Health, Santa Clara County and UCSF announced on Sunday.

Authorities say the L452R variant of COVID-19 was first identified in Denmark in March of 2020, but more frequently since November of last year. The variant is different from the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, officials say.

The 452R variant has also been identified in several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said.

WATCH: UCSF doctor, Santa Clara County health officials discuss L452R variant of COVID-19
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UCSF Doctor Charles Chiu and Santa Clara County Health Official Dr. Sara Cody discuss the L452R variant of COVID-19 in a press conference.

"The fact that this variant was identified in several large outbreaks in our county is a red flag and must be investigated further," said Cody. "This virus continues to mutate and adapt, and we cannot let down our guard. This news underscores the need for everyone to follow all prevention measures and get vaccinated as soon as they are offered the vaccine."

The 452R variant has also been detected in Humboldt, Lake, Los Angeles, Mono, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Luis Obispo counties.

Officials say, "because genomic sequencing is not done equally across the state or country, it is too soon to know how prevalent the 452 variant is statewide, nationally or globally."

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Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist and professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF. Dr. Chiu has been sequencing cases from multiple counties across the state over the past several months as part of the state's SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative known as COVIDNet.

"This variant carries three mutations, including L452R, in the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to and enter cells, and is the target of the two vaccines that are currently available in the United States," said Dr. Chiu. "Now that we know this variant is on the rise in our local communities, we are prioritizing it for study. Researchers at UCSF and elsewhere will now be able to perform the critical laboratory experiments to determine whether or not this virus is more infectious or affects vaccine performance."

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State Epidemiologist for CDPH Dr. Erica Pan says, "It's too soon to know if this variant will spread more rapidly than others, but it certainly reinforces the need for all Californians to wear masks and reduce mixing with people outside their immediate households to help slow the spread of the virus. We also urge anyone who has been exposed to the virus to isolate from others to protect themselves and their loved ones."

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