Los Angeles County on Saturday surpassed 1 million coronavirus cases since reporting its first infection nearly a year before and also recorded its first instance of a new, more contagious variant of the virus that was initially identified in the United Kingdom.
The variant, B.1.1.7, had previously been found in California’s San Diego and San Bernardino counties, as well as 14 other U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is not believed to make people sicker or increase their risk of death but appears to spread more easily, raising fears it could hamper efforts to bring the pandemic under control if it displaces other strains and becomes dominant in the region.
Officials believe the variant has been present in L.A. County for some time and is already spreading in the community.
Health experts have been worried for some time that the new strain will bring even more challenges to a region that has become an epicenter of COVID-19 in America, pushing hospitals to the brink and infecting an estimated 1 in 3 county residents since the beginning of the pandemic.
The presence of the U.K. variant in Los Angeles County is troubling, as our healthcare system is already severely strained with more than 7,500 people currently hospitalized,” Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director, said in a statement.
The new milestone comes as COVID-19 cases have begun to flatten both in the county and other parts of California, though conditions in hospitals remain critical. L.A. County recorded 13,291 new cases of the virus and 237 related deaths Saturday, according to The Times’ tally, bringing its total to 1,003,923 cases and 13,741 deaths.
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