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Update: COVID-19 Variant Discovered In Santa Clara County; Linked To Deadly Kaiser Outbreak

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- State health officials reported Sunday that a variant of the COVID-19 virus has been been identified in several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County, including one at Kaiser Permanente's San Jose Medical Center that led to several dozen infections and possibly one death.

The variant -- L452R -- is different than the new highly contagious strain that has been spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom. But the 452R variant has previously been detected in other countries and states and is now increasingly being found in multiple counties throughout California.

The CDC said there have been 88 cases of the variant have been detected in the United States -- 40 in California.

In addition to Santa Clara County, the 452R variant has been detected in Humboldt, Lake, Los Angeles, Mono, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Luis Obispo counties.

Health officials said they were working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local public health departments and research partners to learn more about the variant, including how it spreads.

"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," said Dr. Erica Pan, State Epidemiologist for CDPH. "It's too soon to know if this variant will spread more rapidly than others."

Santa Clara has been the hardest hit county since the COVID outbreak began in February 2019. As of Sunday, there have been 92,625 confirmed COVID cases since the outbreak began with 1,184 deaths.

Currently, there are 623 patients hospitalized for treatment of COVID infections in Santa Clara County hospitals with 92 new cases being reported on Sunday.

"The fact that this variant was identified in several large outbreaks in our county is a red flag and must be investigated further," said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody in a news release. "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."

Recently, health workers have detected a large number of positive tests for the new strain collected from community testing sites, linked to several large outbreaks. Analysis regarding the role of this and other variants in outbreaks and community spread in Santa Clara County is ongoing.

The 452R variant was most recently noted to contribute to an increasing proportion of COVID-19 cases in specimens sequenced by Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist and professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF.

"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."

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