SALINAS — The Monterey County Health Department’s Public Health Laboratory has been screening for variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in specimens since Dec. 20 and, as of Thursday, has detected no cases of a new variant in the county.
Viruses change constantly through mutation and new variants are expected over time. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are circulating globally, according to a news release from the Monterey County Health Department. In September, a new variant emerged in the United Kingdom and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England. Since then it has been detected in numerous countries around the world, including the United States and Canada.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52 total cases of the variant have been detected in the U.S., including 26 in California.
A second new variant emerged in South Africa in October and shares some of the same mutations as the U.K. variant but there is currently no evidence that either of these two variants causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A third variant has been detected in Nigeria recently and though it is too soon to know for sure, there is no evidence to indicate it is causing more severe illness or increased spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
New variants of the virus can only be identified using genome sequencing, which is performed at specialized reference laboratories. Specimens that have indications of a possible new variant are flagged for further microbiological and epidemiological review and, if warranted, referred for genotypical analysis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that there is no evidence that the new variants are changing the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Most experts believe this is unlikely to occur because of the nature of the immune response to the virus.
The Monterey County Health Department’s Public Health Laboratory plays an important role in monitoring for and detecting new strains of influenza, norovirus, enteroviruses and COVID-19, according to the release. Laboratory staff works together with local medical providers and the health department’s public health professionals to piece together important clinical and epidemiological information with lab test results.
The Monterey County Health Department will communicate with the local medical community and the public should one of the new variants be detected among Monterey County residents.
It is important that all Monterey County residents continue to take measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, whatever the variant or variants that may be circulating. Avoid gatherings, practice good hygiene, wear a face covering when outside your home, and stay 6 feet apart from others.
Contributed by local news sources