New variant makes up most new COVID cases in Nevada County

After experiencing a massive 84% spike last week, Nevada County’s case rate lowered from 12.7 new cases per day to 8.1 this week.

The county’s positivity rate, however, increased from 4.3% to 4.8%. Testing rates in Nevada County, one factor in calculating positivity rate, were at 253 tests per day this week, lagging behind the state median of 303 tests per day.

While the county is not likely to move back into the purple tier barring “extenuating circumstances,” thanks to new state rules that focus on hospitalizations, it could still move into a less restrictive tier before the blueprint is done away with, currently set for June 15.

To move into the yellow tier, the county would need to get its case rate under 6 new cases per day and keep its positivity rate below 5% for two consecutive weeks, a feat it hasn’t achieved in over five months.

In the yellow tier industries like restaurants, card rooms, gyms and distilleries could expand to operating at 25% capacity. Bars that don’t serve meals would also be allowed to reopen.

The state lowered the case rate requirement to reach the yellow tier this month after vaccinating 4 million people in the hardest hit zip codes.

Part of the impetus for changing the blueprint is the race to get more people vaccinated before coronavirus variants less susceptible to treatment can spread.

Nevada County confirmed its first case of the B.1.429 variant last week, stemming from a February reinfection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the variant is more transmissible, less susceptible to treatment and carries a high viral RNA load.

Because of the difficulty in securing the genomic sequencing required to confirm the new variant, it is not known how widespread it has become locally. According to public health officials, historically variants are circulating in a population “long before” they’re identified.

According to the CDC the variant has increased in frequency nationwide from less than 4% at the start of the year to over 10% at the end of March. In California, this variant and the closely related B.1.427 made up more than 53% of all cases in the last month.

A U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, has gone from 1% in frequency at the end January to over 20% at the end of March.

According to the CDC, the U.K. variant is known for an estimated 50% increased transmissibility and increased severity. It is not believed to be significantly less susceptible to treatment.

John Orona is a Staff Writer for The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. To contact him, email or call 530-477-4229.

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