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Los Angeles County testing if new coronavirus strain spreading in community

Los Angeles County testing if new coronavirus strain spreading in community
© Mario Tama/Getty Images

Scientists in Los Angeles County have begun examining samples of COVID-19 found in patients to determine if a new, more infectious strain of the virus from Britain has made its way to the West Coast of the U.S.

The new strain is of particular concern given the ease with which it spreads from person to person, though it is unclear if it is more lethal than the strain that has been spreading for months.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Los Angeles Times in an interview posted Friday that a public health laboratory is conducting gene sequencing to test virus samples.

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“When I spoke with the state Department of Public Health, they indicated that they’ve been looking and didn’t think they had seen” the new strain, Ferrer said. “But you know, you have to know what you’re looking for. So I think everyone at this point that’s seeing these kinds of surges is obviously looking to see, ‘Do we have that particular variant?’”

The remarks come as the county sees a surge in cases. More than 13,600 new cases were tallied Thursday alone, and 148 people died that day.

“This happened devastatingly quickly. Everybody I talked to said this acceleration was beyond any model and any expectation, so then people say ‘What broke down?’ and I’ve got to think it’s partly the strain that was out there,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric GarcettiEric GarcettiOvernight Health Care: Biden slams Texas, Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions: 'Neanderthal thinking' | Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra |Over 200K sign up for ACA plans during Biden special enrollment period Overnight Health Care: Biden says US will have enough vaccine for all adults by end of May | Biden calls on all states to vaccinate teachers by the end of March | Texas, Mississippi lift mask mandates Mayors join calls for Biden administration to end ban on local hires in federal infrastructure projects MORE (D) said in an interview with the Times on Wednesday.

The spike in cases has coincided with concerns over a strain of the virus ravaging the U.K., which has implemented severe restrictions on wide swaths of the country to try to get its outbreak under control. 

A study by the Centre for the Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the strain is 56 percent more contagious than the original strain, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that the strain may already be circulating in the U.S.