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County begins tracking COVID-19 variants

Six cases of the B.1.1.7 variant reported in Kern

The Kern County Public Health Services Department announced Thursday that it will begin tracking COVID-19 variants on its online dashboard that monitors the virus’ progression.

There have now been six cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Kern County, according to an email from the public health department. As of mid-week there were 980 total in California, the news release stated.

On Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said the B.1.1.7 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom, is now the most common strain of COVID-19 in the United States.

She added that testing remains an important tactic in combating the variant and its spread, while also emphasizing increased vaccination efforts.

“We must continue to vaccinate as many Americans as we can each day,” Walensky said. “Because when we invest in vaccination and other public health prevention measures, we are seeing case counts decrease and deaths decrease.”

Kern Public Health said the variant is associated with approximately 50 percent increased transmission and is likely associated with increased disease severity and risk of death. The news release did point out that it appears to have minimal impact on the effectiveness of treatments with antibodies.

Public health spokeswoman Michelle Corson said that studies indicate the antibodies generated through currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines recognize the variants. Developments in this area continue to be monitored and studied, she said.

The first case of the variant was reported in Kern on March 18. While there have been 1,502 coronavirus cases in the county since then, five have been reported as the B.1.1.7 variant.

Corson said the county elected to make the variant statistics public when it received confirmation of five new local variant cases from the state on Thursday.

The public health department is reporting no other COVID-19 variants are currently present in Kern.

The department encourages residents to keep taking steps that will limit transmission of the coronavirus, including:

• Wearing a mask when leaving home.

• Keeping physical distance of at least six feet.

• Frequently washing hands for 20 seconds.

• Those 16 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible.