LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) — Researchers at La Jolla's Scripps Research Institute, along with scientists around the country, are releasing a new study that shows that the highly contagious UK variant of COVID-19 is on its way to becoming the dominant strain in the United States.
"The variant is probably 35 to 40% more transmissible than currently circulating lineages," Karthik Gangavarapu, co-first author of the study, said.
According to Gangavarapu, a Ph.D. student at Scripps Research Institute, scientists are finding this specific variant at a rate much higher than the others. They predict it could become the predominant strain in the country by mid-March.
"The growth of cases caused by this, it's basically exponential," Gangavarapu said. "So you see that every ten days, the number of cases you're finding end up doubling."
Governor Gavin Newsom mentioned the state's statistics at his daily press conference.
"One-hundred fifty-three cases of the UK variant are here in the state of California," Newsom said. "Now, San Diegans, you understand this well. About 138 of them have been identified here in San Diego."
But this does not mean San Diego is California's epicenter of the state's spread of the UK variant. Gangavarapu says San Diego has world-class genomic sequencing capabilities, and many of the samples were collected locally. That is why the numbers of the variant from San Diego are high.
"There are many other states where the sampling is not as good," Gangavarapu said. "So it's not evidence that it's not there. It's just that we don't know yet because we haven't gone looking for it."
Gangavarapu believes there are more instances of the UK variant that are not tested yet elsewhere. So he says we need to be more vigilant in our mitigation protocols.
"The measures that we had before, which was social distancing and mask-wearing, staying home, and so on, those measures worked very well for the previous lineages," Gangavarapu said. "But this variant is more transmissible, which means that we need more proactive mitigation efforts to actually bring down the number of cases."
Researchers say that there is no evidence to show that the currently offered vaccines are any less effective against the UK variant.