Santa Clara Co. health officials warn of increase in COVID-19 variants

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Health officials in the Bay Area's largest county are urging the public to maintain their vigilance as more variants of COVID-19 are detected in the community.

"Keep wearing your mask, delay your travel, don't indoor dine, don't go to indoor bars, don't host an indoor gathering at your home," said Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody. "Even if it's allowed under the state rules, don't do it. It's not safe."

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Every variant of concern, as defined by the CDC, has now been detected in Santa Clara County -- including separate variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, and California.

While only a fraction of cases undergo genomic sequencing, Dr. Cody says the proportion of cases that are linked to more transmissible variants is climbing, which signals a worrying trend.

"We are in a race between the variants and the vaccines. We have some data on the variants and how effective the vaccine is, some but not all. The overall message is you are far more protected if you are vaccinated than if you are not. The more people who are vaccinated in our county, in our community, the safer we all are," said Dr. Cody.

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The variant concerns come as the county faces low vaccine supply from the state even as eligibility expands to Californians aged 50 and up on April 1.

"We're a county of nearly two million people, the largest in Northern California, and so the allocations are not going as far in our county as others," said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county's COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer.

This week, the Stanford Clinical Virology Lab also confirmed a case of the variant first detected in India in the county. Research is still being done on how impactful it could be.

"It contains two known spike mutations in the receptor binding domain," said Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, the lab's director, who has been closely tracking variants.

Infectious disease experts are asking the community to be smart with their choices.

"As we're trying to get everybody vaccinated, my worry is that we will give the virus a chance to develop mutations that will get around the vaccines, and then we're just going to be sliding back down the hill," said Stanford School of Medicine professor Dr. Anne Liu.

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