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Sonoma County detects single case of Brazil variant

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Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

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Sonoma County public health officials have confirmed the first local case of the so-called Brazil variant, a coronavirus mutation that has wreaked havoc in that country and might be twice as transmissible as earlier strains of the infectious disease.

The latest mutation, known as the P.1 variant, is one of a small but increasing number of variant and “breakthrough” cases officials have discovered in the county. As of Friday, there were 14 virus infections overall tied to the Brazil, U.K. and West Coast variants, up from 8 cases in mid-April.

Also, there are now 60 COVID-19 cases the county has connected to residents who have gotten completely vaccinated, then two weeks or more later tested positive for the virus. Last month when county officials acknowledged the first batch of breakthrough infections, there were 39 such cases confirmed.

County public health officials had little information Friday about the sole infection involving the dangerous Brazil variant, only that it did not appear to be related to travel. Officials said they are investigating this case.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said the presence of COVID-19 variants in Sonoma County is expected and should not cause alarm at this small number.

The county’s low level of coronavirus transmission and high vaccination rate are helping to slow the spread of variants, while decreasing the potential for new mutations.

“I don’t think we need to panic about having one case of a variant in our community. We just need to track them,” Mase said, noting the county will soon have the ability to conduct its own genetic sequencing on positive COVID-19 samples to determine the presence of variants.

The county now sends select samples to state and federal laboratories for genetic sequencing. But it often takes several weeks for the results to come back confirming or ruling out variants, making it difficult to use the information for effective local contact tracing.

Aside from the one case of the Brazilian variant, county health officials have identified two cases of the U.K. variant, and five and six cases, respectively, of the two different West Coast variants.

“It’s expected that we’re going to see variants from around the world, because of globalization and the fact that people do travel,” Mase said. “What it means is we need to just continue to be vigilant. People need to continue masking or wearing facial coverings and really adhere to all the other mitigation measures as we continue to reopen the economy.”

News of the variants comes at a time when the county is on the verge of qualifying as early as Tuesday to further reopen and expand operations of area businesses and public venues. The local COVID-19 metrics are close to making the county eligible to advance from the orange tier to the least restrictive yellow tier of the state’s four-part reopening plan.

Mase said much of the county’s success keeping virus transmission in check is owed to the local vaccination effort, which has led to 47% of the county’s population 16 and older being fully vaccinated. Another 19% are partially inoculated. About 450,000 vaccine doses have been administered countywide since December.

Among the 192,579 Sonoma County residents fully vaccinated as of Friday, county officials said only 60 of them have subsequently contracted the virus.

The vast majority of those patients have had no viral symptoms or mild illness, said Dr. Mark Lobato, a medical consultant for the county’s public health division.

Among most people who have become infected after being vaccinated, viral loads are low and to the point in which the person is not contagious or at least not very contagious, Lobato said.

Post-vaccination COVID-19 cases comprise a tiny share of the 9,284 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the year, shortly after the ongoing vaccination campaign began, officials said.

Such breakthrough infections have been rare nationally. But infectious disease experts say this category of infection can be expected since existing vaccines don’t give people 100% immunity. The two most widely used COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are respectively 95% and 90% effective at preventing infection by the pandemic disease.

Dr. Michael Vollmer, a regional infectious disease specialist with health care provider Kaiser Permanente, said in mid-April only a handful of breakthrough cases have been identified and connected to the more than 1.5 million COVID-19 inoculations Kaiser has done in Northern California.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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