WARNING: New ‘Double Mutant’ Virus Variant is coming to California

The variant was identified in a patient at Stanford. Experts urged people to continue minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and get vaccinated.

PALO ALTO, CA — Researchers at Stanford University identified a new COVID-19 variant that is being called the “double mutant” because it contains two mutations flagged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of concern.

Stanford’s Clinical Virology Laboratory confirmed one case of the variant and seven other presumptive cases based on samples taken from Bay Area patients, Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, the lab’s director, told the Los Angeles Times Monday.

The case “likely occurred” in Santa Clara County and centered on a patient from a Stanford Health Care clinic, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The strain originated from India and is likely responsible for more than 15 percent of new COVID-19 cases in a recent surge in the state of Maharashtra, the Times reported.

Pinsky told ABC7 that the “double mutant” variant contained both a mutation found in the variant first identified in California and a mutation in the variant first discovered in South Africa and Brazil. The new variant hasn’t been studied enough for experts to determine whether it is more transmissible or how effective vaccines will work against it.

“I don’t think we know whether the vaccines will be less effective against this variant,” Pinsky told ABC7. “We do have some information on experiments on the individual mutations suggesting that antibodies will be less able to neutralize this India variant.”

Studies suggested that vaccines might be less effective against variants, but experts maintain that vaccines protect against serious illness and death from COVID-19 even in areas where variants are circulating widely.

Santa Clara County public health officials announced last week that “every variant of concern” had been detected in the county as public health Officer Sara Cody warned of another surge.

“Genomic sequencing is allowing us to confirm what we already presumed based on national trends, which is the presence and unfortunate increase of variants in our community,” Cody said in a statement last week. “We’re already seeing surges in other parts of the country, likely driven by variants. Combined with the data we are seeing locally, these are important warning signs that we must continue to minimize the spread.”

California has sequenced more COVID-19 variants than any other state, including 851 cases of the variant first detected in the United Kingdom, 10 cases of the variant first detected in South Africa, 35 cases of the variant first detected in Brazil and some 9,400 cases of the variants first detected on the West Coast.

Despite the prevalence of variants, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday that California would lift all restrictions on businesses, gatherings and recreational activities on June 15 if case rates keep trending down and vaccines are readily available.

But the governor emphasized the importance of vaccinations amid the uncertainty created by variants. “This is really a race: these vaccines against the variants, against the mutations,” Newsom said.

Patch editor Courtney Teague contributed to this report.

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