UC San Diego Infectious Disease Modeler Warns Of New Variant Spread In San Diego County

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: A man gets the COVID-19 vaccine at San Diego County’s “Vaccination Superstation” in Chula Vista, Calif. Jan. 21, 2021.

It was only Monday that the stay-at-home order was lifted, allowing many businesses to return to operation, with restrictions.

But now, a group of local infectious disease researchers give a somber warning on the problem a variant of the COVID-19 virus now presents in San Diego.

It’s called B.1.1.7, more commonly known as the U.K. variant because it was first detected in the United Kingdom.

“Although the prevalence of the B.1.1.7 variant is estimated to be relatively low currently in San Diego at 5%, again because of this increased transmissibility, we anticipate that it will become the dominant strain within a matter of weeks,” said Natasha Martin, an expert in the modeling of disease spread at UC San Diego.

Martin said that could be a big problem because the B.1.1.7 variant is estimated to be 50 to 70% more transmissible than the current strain of COVID-19 that’s dominant in the county.

Your browser does not support inline frames or is currently configured not to display inline frames. Content can be viewed at actual source page:>

Martin said even though it’s still critical we all wear masks outside of our homes, the increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant means masks are less effective in preventing infection.

So, why would the state lift the stay-at-home order at the same time the new variant is spreading?

Martin said they’re relying on data showing cases and hospitalizations declining. But, she said, that doesn’t take into account the bigger picture.

“Those projections will need to be revised as we see emergence of variants and potentially increased transmission as a result of them,” said Martin.

Increasing vaccinations will help. But Martin cautioned that just vaccinating more people won’t get us out of the woods.

“We will still likely see cases at least returning to where they are now or potentially higher than we’re currently seeing them, and so we need a combination of a robust vaccination program as well as strict adherence to masking and social distancing orders,” she said.

RELATED: Moderna Finds COVID-19 Vaccine Still Protects Against Emerging Strains

At this point, you might be asking yourself if our current vaccines will be effective against B.1.1.7 and other variants. Good news on that front from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

In Washington Wednesday, Fauci said preliminary research shows the vaccines available now are effective. But, he also said federal health agencies are preparing for the possibility of them losing effectiveness.

If that happens, Dr. Fauci said he has high confidence that drug companies could quickly change the vaccine formulas.

John Carroll

General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI’m a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren’t being covered elsewhere, but I’m also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR’s Weekend Edition.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.