‘We are in a race’: South Bay health officials warn of COVID variants
Dr. Sara Cody is featured in this file photo. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Multiple variants of the coronavirus are circulating in Santa Clara County, and public health officials warn another surge of COVID-19 infections could begin if residents aren’t more careful.

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said Thursday that all residents need to remain vigilant and not let their guard down when it comes to fending off COVID. That means refraining from nonessential travel and continuing to wear a mask when with people from a different household, even if an individual is vaccinated, Cody said.

And as at least six strains of COVID-19 rip through the South Bay, Cody and other health leaders worry about the vaccine’s efficacy against the new strains.

“Right now we are in a race between the variants and the vaccine,” Cody said. “We have some data regarding the variants and how effective the vaccine is, some but not all.”

As of March 27, there are 92 confirmed cases of B.1.1.7 (first detected in the United Kingdom), three confirmed cases of B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa), one case of P.1 (first detected in Japan/Brazil) and more than 1,000 confirmed cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429 (first detected in California) in Santa Clara County.

As the virus continues to spread, Cody says it has more opportunities to mutate into new, dangerous variants. By tamping down case numbers, she said, people can help stop new variants from developing.

Despite a significant decline in case rates lately, Cody warns the steady decline has tapered off. Now, rates are about the same as October, before the fall and winter surge.

According to the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard, 1,942 residents have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The county’s 7-day rolling average of positive cases is more than 100 new cases per day. At the end of January, that average peaked at more than 1,400 cases per day.

Additionally, Cody said there’s not enough information about the effectiveness of the vaccine against the variants.

“There are two types of data we are looking at,” Cody said. “One is laboratory data. There is some evidence from lab data that these vaccines may not perform as well against these variants.”

But when it comes to monitoring the spread of the variant in real life, Cody said the data comparing the spread through vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals is  “incomplete.”

The warning from Cody comes as Santa Clara County in March entered into the orange tier of the state’s reopening plan. The new tier allowed the county to remove capacity limits on malls and retailers, allow indoor dining at 50% capacity and expand capacity for gyms, religious services and movie theaters.

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 testing officer, delivered some positive news Thursday. Next week, county health care providers will receive nearly 72,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the state. In comparison, the county only received 58,000 in the past week.

“However it’s still not enough,” Fenstersheib said. “We’re doing about one-third of our capacity in this county. But we are happy to see at least a little bit of an increase.”

Earlier this week the county received an additional $1.5 million in state funds to help with vaccine equity efforts, but leaders say a lack of supply remains the biggest hurdle. For weeks, officials here argue the county’s health system has the capacity to vaccinate 200,000 people per week.

“Unfortunately, if we cannot get more vaccine supply, and if we can’t get continued adherence to behavior change, we do anticipate that we’ll have another surge,” Cody said. “I do hope that it will be a swell, not a surge. We need people to just hold on for a little bit longer.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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