A coronavirus variant detected in California appears dangerous enough to be considered a "variant of concern" along with the variants that have emerged from Brazil, Britain, and South Africa, researchers say. Researchers at UC San Francisco warn that like the other variants, the California one is more infectious than the older strain and it is now the dominant one in the state, the Los Angeles Times reports. "The devil is already here," says lead researcher Dr. Charles Chiu. "I wish it were different. But the science is the science." Chiu, an infectious diseases researcher, believes the strain will account for 90% of COVID-19 infections in California by the end of March. The new variant, first detected last summer, comes in two forms—B1427 and B1429—with slightly different mutations, researchers say.
The variant has mutations in its spike protein that makes it easier to invade human cells, and lab tests showed that it is more resistant to antibodies from vaccines or prior infection, researchers say. The researchers say the variant, which has also been detected in other states, appears to also be deadlier. They found that patients infected with the variant were 11 times more likely to die, although that finding was based on a small sample of patients and the researchers say the higher death rate could have been because hospitals were overwhelmed at the time, the journal Science reports. Chiu and other experts say the new variant makes it more vital than ever to stop the spread of the virus—especially to avoid a "nightmare scenario" where the California strain meets another variant in the same patient, creating a highly dangerous new strain combining their mutations. (Read more coronavirus stories.)