3 people infected with U.K. coronavirus variant in Fresno County

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Health officials say they have discovered the first known cases of the U.K. coronavirus variant in Fresno County.

In a media briefing on Friday afternoon, the Fresno County Department of Public Health officials said they were informed by the state three people have tested positive for the U.K. coronavirus variant, or "B.1.1.7" as it's officially known.

"In many ways, it's like we're in the first few months of the pandemic all over again," said Fresno County Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra.

Health department contact tracers have already reached out to all of the people infected with the variant and are working to isolate people they may have come into contact with.

B.1.1.7 is one of the so-called "variants of concern" and was found to be 40 to 80 percent more transmissible. It was first detected in the United Kingdom where it spread quickly and caused a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.

"We don't know if this is the dominant strain," Dr. Vohra said. "Certainly that's the worry - if this becomes a dominant strain that this will actually create a real backslide in terms of our ability to take care of people."

Health officials said this coronavirus variant not only spreads more easily than others, but it's also more deadly. They acknowledged the three cases are likely "only the tip of the iceberg," and there are probably many more cases of these variant strains causing COVID cases in Fresno County.

Dr. Vohra said case rates were going down, but he said they're now starting to plateau, which he blames, partly, on the variants.

Health officias said vaccinations will help prevent further spread, but they're also asking residents to continue taking precautions.

Vohra said, "Don't let down your guard. We're still in the 'purple' or the widespread community spread tier here in Fresno County compared to the rest of the state. So we still have just a lot of infections that are being reported every single day."

Research is still underway about how effective each of the vaccines is against the UK variant, but experts believe they all help protect people from getting extremely sick.

County health officials say so far more than 320,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Fresno County and 39,000 more doses to arrive next week.
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