The COVID-19 B.1.429 variant — also known as the California variant because of where it first was found — has been detected in Lane County, public health officials announced Tuesday.
The variant was identified in samples submitted to the University of Oregon Genomics and Cell Characterization Core Facility. The samples are deidentified, meaning neither Lane County Public Health nor the university has a way to track the person who has it.
On Tuesday, Lane County Senior Public Health Officer Dr. Patrick Luedtke assured residents that variants are to be expected.
“It’s normal for viruses to mutate,” Luedtke said. “RNA viruses, like this COVID virus, they’re less stable than DNA viruses, and the RNA molecule is inherently less stable than DNA.”
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Luedtke explained that part of the reason the COVID-19 virus has quickly mutated into so many variants is the inherent instability of RNA, as well as a lack of what’s called “proofreading,” a term used in genetics that refers to the error-correcting processes during DNA replication.
“For DNA viruses, there’s a proofreading function that allows mistakes to be fixed,” Luedtke said. “But RNA viruses don’t have that proofreading, so these viruses make lots and lots of variants, all the time.”
Most of the variants don’t help the virus, many die away and some make the virus less viable, but occasionally a variant helps the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the B.1.429 variant may spread easier and quicker, but there is no evidence yet that it is a more dangerous strain. Unlike variants first discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa, which have not been detected locally, the CDC does not consider B.1.429 variant a “variant of concern.”
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The two main vaccines currently available — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — should be effective against it, according to the CDC.
Luedtke said that based on current available and limited studies, he’s not concerned that the variant’s presence in the county will threaten the trajectory of county’s infectious rate — a number that has been increasingly shrinking as more vaccines have found their way to residents’ arms.
Vaccines in Lane County
More than 9,000 vaccines will be distributed in the county this week.
LCPH announced Tuesday that it has received 7,020 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 300 doses of Moderna and 2,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. LCPH will receive 900 of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and 100 doses will be sent to 11 different Bi-Mart locations in the county (for a total of 1,100).
As of Sunday, the latest day for which data is available, there are 22,397 people fully vaccinated, 5.91% of Lane County’s population, with 79,316 first and second doses administered.
Lane County reported one death and 23 confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, raising the death toll to 128 and the countywide case count to 10,320, according to Lane County Public Health.
There are 161 considered infectious, down 9% from Monday’s 177.
Eighteen are reported hospitalized, which is four more than Monday; with four in intensive care, one more than Monday; and none on a ventilator, which is unchanged from Monday.
John Heasly contributed to this reported.
Contact reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at Tatiana@registerguard.com or 541-521-7512, and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.