BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) – UC Berkeley confirms two students have tested positive for the more contagious strain of coronavirus first detected in the UK.
In a statement Thursday, officials said there is no indication that the two students had been on the Berkeley campus, except for testing.
The announcement comes two days after Alameda County reported 6 new or suspected cases of this new variant called B.1.1.7, including one of the two cases at UC Berkeley.
“It is unfortunately no surprise that this and other variants are being detected locally, given the extent of viral spread happening currently regionally, nationally and internationally,” said Dr. Anna Harte, medical director at University Health Services (UHS). “With more viruses circulating, emerging strains that are more transmissible will tend to dominate. What is more concerning is whether they may become resistant to our vaccines, and how lethal they are. The more efficiently we can contain the spread, the better chance we have of nipping this in the bud.”
UC Berkeley said the campus is experiencing a spike in the number of students with COVID-19.
An advisory was issued over the weekend asking all students to self-sequester in their rooms as much as possible and to wear a face mask whenever in common areas of their dormitory floors.
Both the UK and Brazil coronavirus variants have already been detected in the Bay Area.
Scientists say the U.S. is behind on detecting dangerous coronavirus mutations and is only now beginning to really look for them blaming an absence of national leadership, and lack of funding and supplies to hunt for mutations.
The Stanford lab is on the front lines of American efforts to track new strains, testing samples every day from the Bay Area.
“It’s very important for us to know which variant is out there. You know, some of the variants have been linked to increase in transmission of the virus,” Obadia Kenji, Stanford lab operations manager, said.
The British variant is more contagious and may carry a higher risk of death than the original strain, the fear is new variants could make existing vaccines less effective.
“So a number of them have these mutations that may impact their ability to be neutralized by the antibodies generated from vaccination, so they could impact the performance of the vaccines,” Benjamin Pinsky, Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory Medical Director, said.
UC Berkeley had started giving out COVID-19 vaccines in January.
Back at UC Berkeley, 44 students tested positive for COVID-19 last week,
Since August, the university has seen more than 500 confirmed cases – likely connected to parties off-campus.
Researchers are keeping a close eye on these new mutations and say there is no indication that the two students infected with the UK variant had been on the Berkeley campus, except for testing.