New COVID-19 variant tied to Kaiser hospital outbreak

Public health officials said a new COVID-19 variant is increasingly being identified in multiple counties across California and has been linked to several outbreaks in Santa Clara County, including one at Kaiser Permanente San Jose (Calif.) Medical Center, according to NBC Bay Area.

In a news release, Santa Clara County officials said the L452R variant, which is different from the variant originating in the U.K., was detected in other countries and states, including California, and is now increasingly being found in multiple California counties. They said the state is working with the CDC, local public health departments and laboratory sequencing partners to gather more information about the variant and its spread.

"It is common to identify variants of viruses like SARS-CoV-2, and we are working with our federal, local and university partners to better understand this variant and how it might impact Californians," Erica Pan, MD, state epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health, said in the release. "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."

According to NBC Bay Area, the variant has been linked to a recent outbreak at Kaiser Permanente in San Jose. The outbreak was first reported in early January. Previously, the hospital reported that 44 emergency department staff members tested positive between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1, including one worker who died. As of Jan. 7, 60 staff members who worked in the emergency department on Dec. 25 tested positive. The outbreak ultimately grew to at least 90 cases, according to NBC Bay Area.

In a statement shared with Becker's, Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente said information about the L452R COVID-19 variant connection to the San Jose outbreak "will assist the epidemiological investigation of the outbreak and helps to advance important scientific research," but "it does not immediately affect our patients or employees."

"Staff and patients who tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of this outbreak are now past their contagious period and symptom free," Kaiser said, adding that it continues to investigate factors that may have contributed to the outbreak and is ensuring enforcement of robust and consistent infection control practices.

Public health officials said they continue to analyze the role of the L452R variant and other variants in outbreaks and community spread in Santa Clara County.

Outside of Santa Clara County, they said the L452R variant has also been found in the California counties of Humboldt, Lake, Los Angeles, Mono, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Luis Obispo. 

The L452R variant is among five recurring mutations that constitute the CAL.20C strain, which may be contributing to the pandemic surge in Southern California, according to new research from Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai. The researchers said the new strain was found in more than one-third of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles, but their findings did not indicate whether the strain is more deadly than current forms of coronavirus.

This story was updated at 11:02 a.m. CT on Jan. 20.

More articles on public health:
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Pandemic is out of control, most Americans say: 4 survey findings
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