Researchers say Southern California COVID-19 variant is spreading rapidly

Photo (c) stellalevi - Getty Images

CAL.20C has spread to a total of 19 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C.

A variant of COVID-19 found in Southern California last July now makes up nearly half of COVID-19 cases in Southern California and has begun making its way around the nation, according to a report published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The variant, called CAL.20C, has now been detected in Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C.

Researchers believe people traveling from Southern California are spreading the variant to other parts of the U.S., as well as to other countries. 

"CAL.20C is moving, and we think it is Californians who are moving it," study co-author Jasmine Plummer said in a statement. 

Plummer and her team noted that Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the busiest airports in the nation. Approximately two million people traveled through LAX each month during the last two months of 2020. LAX is also a common departure point for people traveling to the six foreign countries where CAL.20C is now found. 

More research being conducted

Like other COVID-19 variants that have begun showing up, there are still many unknowns about CAL.20C. At this time, researchers don’t know whether CAL.20C is more deadly than the prevailing strains or whether people can be inoculated against it with current vaccines. 

The report noted that the answers to those questions are being looked into by researchers at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, who are tracking the rise and spread of the new strain using a technique known as next-generation sequencing. 

"New variants do not always affect the behavior of a virus in the body," said study co-author Dr. Eric Vail, an assistant professor of pathology at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics. “But we are interested in the CAL.20C strain because three of  its five variants involve the so-called spike protein, which enables the SARS-CoV-2 virus to invade and infect normal cells.” 

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