First confirmed case of U.K. coronavirus variant found in Los Angeles County

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has confirmed the first case of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. It is the same variant that was discovered in the United Kingdom. 

Public health officials say the individual is a man who recently spent time in Los Angeles County. He traveled to Oregon where he is currently isolating. The variant was confirmed by Quest Laboratories in Washington State, according to a statement from Public Health

Health officials say although this is the first confirmed case of the U.K. variant in LA County, they believe it is already spreading in the community.

"Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic," a statement from public health read. 

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According to health officials, the U.K variant spreads quicker than other variants. But there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. This variant was first discovered in September of 2020 and is now widespread in London and Southeast England.

The announcement comes as LA Public Health reported another 14,669 new cases of COVID-19 and 253 additional deaths. This brings the county’s total to 1,003,923 cases and 13,741 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals remained unchanged from Friday at 7,597, with 22% in the ICU. After peaking at just over 8,000, hospitalizations have been inching down in recent days.

The county has a total of about 2,500 licensed ICU beds. But health officials have warned that hospital numbers could significantly rise again due to people who were infected over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The county has continued to see elevated daily new case numbers, which always translate to more people being hospitalized.

Although the 1 million figure represents about one-tenth of the overall population, modeling released by the county this week estimated that as many as one-third of residents have actually been infected at some point, most likely without ever knowing it.

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