‘We’re not through it yet’: Nevada County officials discuss COVID-19 vaccines, new confirmed variant

County officials announced Wednesday that two specimens taken from COVID-19 patients mid-March, one each from western and eastern Nevada County, were determined to be the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom.

According to a release, this variant is considered a variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because it is approximately 50% more transmissible than the original virus and may cause more severe disease, although “currently available vaccines continue to be effective against it.”

Last week, county officials said that the first confirmed case of the B.1.429 variant, a West Coast variant also designated a variant of concern by the CDC, had been identified in Nevada County as well.

In that case, Public Health had requested genetic sequencing on the positive COVID-19 test in February, after an individual who had already had the virus was reinfected.

Nevada County Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Kellermann said in a Q&A Wednesday that around 6% of COVID-19 specimens are randomly tested statewide, although he added that local health officials request gene sequencing in “unusual cases” where certain criteria is met, including positive tests in individuals who were already immunized or had a previous infection.

Dr. Glennah Trochet, Nevada County deputy public health officer, explained that “a whole lot of things have to come together“ for successful gene sequencing in these special cases, including knowing early enough to request it before the lab disposes of the specimen, getting permission from the state lab to send it, and for there to be enough virus in it to test.

“This is just another signal that we’re not done,” Trochet said of the confirmed variants. “Although we can see the end of the pandemic, we’re not through it yet, and we could make matters worse if we aren’t careful.”

Trochet emphasized that the variant confirmed last week was from a specimen taken in February, and that the ones confirmed Wednesday were from specimens taken in March — delays in turnaround which she attributed to the under-funding of public health labs as “we’re all waiting in line for the testing, and there’s just not enough of it.”

“So, all this indicates is that, yes, these two variants are here and very likely other common variants in California are in Nevada County also,” said Trochet.

Nevada County Director of Public Health Jill Blake said Wednesday that the temporary pause in administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine recommended Tuesday by the CDC and FDA will not affect the county’s scheduled clinics or vaccination plans.

Blake said the county had received an allocation “a while back” of around 900 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, almost all of which have been used, and “a small allocation“ more recently may not have been received yet by the county.

The CDC on Tuesday recommended a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of a rare blood clot that has been found in six women out of 6.8 million doses given in this country.

According to Blake, Public Health has continued to see “a pretty robust response” to new vaccine appointments posted to MyTurn for their Whispering Pines vaccination clinic, and plans to offer around 1,600 appointments for next week.

Since last month, Public Health has been adding the following week’s first-dose appointments for the Whispering Pines clinic to MyTurn at noon each Friday.

As of Wednesday, 58,238 doses have been administered to Nevada County residents, according to the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union, a sister pubication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

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