FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – The lack of genomic sequencing for COVID-19 variants in Fresno County is leaving questions on how those variants could be affecting transmission rates locally.
Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said they’re still working with multiple agencies and the state to get samples from the county sent to a state lab for genomic sequencing.
“It’s got a lot of moving parts. We’re hoping that we can start to get some variant analysis for Fresno County in the next couple of weeks,” Vohra said.
Several COVID-19 variants have been detected in California. The CDC’s most recent numbers show 375 cases of the B.1.17 variant, known as the UK variant, have been identified in California. In addition, four cases of the B.1.351 variant, known as the South Africa variant, and one case of the P.1 variant, known as the Brazil variant, have been identified in the state.
Samples in Fresno County have not been analyzed, but Vohra said given that the variants are circulating in California, he wouldn’t be surprised if they are detected in the county.
“And that may explain why our numbers are plateauing more than dropping is that these variants are more contagious, they’re a little bit sneakier,” Vohra said.
Only 11 counties in California remain in the most restrictive purple tier, including Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Merced Counties.
The Kings County Department of Public Health announced last week that they had received confirmation of the first case of the UK variant in the county.
Madera County Health Officer Dr. Simon Paul said they’ve sent samples to a state lab and more than 270 samples from the county have been sequenced.
“They’d seen only one of the variants, it’s not a variant of concern, but it’s the common California variant,” Paul said.
He said samples are chosen based on certain criteria.
“If someone has traveled outside the country to an area of concern, if people are part of an outbreak to sort out how the outbreak is spreading and also more recently, they’re looking at if someone has been vaccinated and becomes infected after that, which we haven’t seen, they want to make sure those people haven’t been exposed to a variant as well,” he said.
While Madera County’s case rate has been decreasing, Paul said it’s hard to predict when they could be moving into the less restrictive Red Tier.
“With these variants, maybe cases will go up. The concerning thing is people are doing more, things have opened up like youth sports,” he said. “That means maybe instead of a group of kids at a party being exposed, now it’s the party plus the van they went to the sporting events to.”
He added that with the presence of the variants, it’s even more of a reason for people to get vaccinated.