STANFORD (CBS SF) — A ‘double variant’ of the coronavirus, rapidly spreading in India, has been detected in the San Francisco Bay Area by Stanford’s Clinical Virology Laboratory.
The discovery came while the lab was scanning viral genetic sequences from samples gathered from COVID patients being tested and treated at Stanford-run health care facilities across the Bay Area.
“We would expect this variant to be more transmissible which has been shown for the California variant,” says Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, Director at the Clinical Virology Laboratory.
Dr. Pinsky says the first confirmed case came from a test sample from Santa Clara County.
He said there seven other presumptive cases that need to undergo more sequencing before they can be positively identified.
Dr. Ben Pinsky says in addition to possibly being more contagious, researchers are concerned this new strain might be less responsive to the current vaccines.
“We would expect this variant to be more transmissible which has been shown for the California variant,” says Dr. Pinsky.
Health officials say the India mutation is similar to the Brazilian and South African variants and can change parts of the coronavirus spike protein. The spike protein forms part of the coronavirus outer layer and is what the virus uses to make contact with human cells, bind to them, then enter and infect them.
Last week, Santa Clara County health officials warned residents of the potential spread of COVID-19 variants in the area.
At a press conference, Santa Clara Public Health Department Director Dr. Sara Cody, announced that while the number of COVID-19 cases had plateaued in the county, there were signs of increases.
“The numbers are picking up, and right now we’re in a race between the variants and the vaccine,” Cody said.
Cody said healthcare workers have detected COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Japan and South Africa in the county, and cases of those variants are picking up.
In response, Cody and other officials pushed residents to obtain vaccinations as soon as possible and remain in lockdown.
“The top line message is: you are far more protected if you’re vaccinated than if you’re not, and the more people vaccinated in Santa Clara County, the safer we are,” Cody said.
Devin Fehely contributed to this report