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California identifies its first case of new COVID-19 strain

Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Health officials in San Diego County confirmed Wednesday that a 30-year-old man has tested positive for a new variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in the United States a day prior.

The man was tested Tuesday following two days of experiencing symptoms and the results indicated it could be the new possibly more infectious strain of COVID-19 first discovered earlier this month in Britain. It has since been diagnosed in South Africa, Taiwan, Canada and the United States after officials in Colorado on Tuesday confirmed the nation's first case of the variant.

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"The B.1.1.7 strain is here, and San Diegans can protect protect themselves against it by doing the same things they have been asked to do since the pandemic began," Eric McDonald, medical director of the County Epidemiology and Immunizations Services branch, said in a statement. "Everyone should stay home and avoid any gatherings over the New Year's holiday."

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The patient is currently in isolation, officials said, adding that household contacts have been identified and are being quarantined and tested for the virus.

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Nathan Fletcher, San Diego County supervisor, told reporters during a press conference that because the man has no history of travel they believe "this is not an isolated case."

The variant of the virus first discovered in Britain does not seem to induce more severe symptoms in those infected but it does appear to spread "considerably faster," he said.

The discovery came as the county, along with the state, battles escalating cases.

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On Wednesday, San Diego reported more than 2,500 new infections, a nearly 2% increase from the day prior, according to county health data. A total of 150,000 cases have be diagnosed in San Diego.

Due to the discovery of the new strain, climbing cases and tapped health resources, it is more important for residents to heed the government's warnings to stay home during the holiday season, Fletcher said.

"Because of all of these factors, we continue to encourage the public and plead with the public please come together, especially over the next 72 hours in the New Year's holiday, to please follow the public health orders," he said.

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Earlier, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Gov. Gavin Newsom in a press conference that he isn't surprised California confirmed the strain's presence and he expects other states to do so shortly.

Given the degree of its spread in Britain and the amount of travel between the European country and the United States and through other countries in between, its arrival was expected, he said.

"I don't think Californians should feel that this is something odd -- it is something that's expected," he said.

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California is the sickest state in the sickest country in the world to the pandemic, reporting more than 2.2 million cases and nearly 25,000 deaths, according to data from the government of California.

A live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University showed early Thursday that the United States had 19.7 million infections and 342,000 deaths to the virus.

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