Health Dept. reports new California variant in Puerto Rico

By John McPhaul

As the island continues to face an uptick in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, the Puerto Rico Health Department on Tuesday reported two new cases that involve another variant from California.

Although having similarities with the B.1.429 variant, the fourth variant to be detected on the island is being classified as B.1.427.

Via a written statement, Health Secretary-designate Carlos Mellado López said variants are common as “all viruses are prone to changes or mutations.”

“An example of this are the influenza viruses that change every year,” Mellado López said. “The SARS-CoV-2 virus is an RNA virus with mutations in all parts of the world. These changes give rise to variants of the same virus, as is our case.”

“We cannot control mutations, but what we can control is to follow prevention protocols step by step,” he added. “The key is to keep using face masks, ensure physical distancing and practice hand washing to avoid infections.”

At press time, the Health Department had identified 28 variant cases, of which 18 correspond to the UK variant (B.1.1.7), six cases to one of the California variants (B.1.429), two cases to the recently discovered California variant (B.1.427) and two cases to the variant from Brazil (P.2).

The STAR reported Monday that the island had 21 coronavirus cases with variants, seven fewer than were announced Tuesday.

Mellado López said the Health Department has the collaboration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratory in San Juan, which is currently sequencing samples along with Ponce Health Sciences University, the institution that detected the first suspicious COVID cases that involved the UK variant.

He also said the agency is working with several laboratories on the island that collect samples and send them to the CDC laboratories in Atlanta.

The Health Department reported that of the 28 cases, 26 are considered a variant of concern, since the evidence indicates that it has a higher transmissibility.

A variant of interest, meanwhile, has specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes that allow the virus to spread at an enhanced rate. At the moment, the two cases of the Brazilian variant in Puerto Rico are identified as variants of interest.

According to an epidemiology report from the Health Department, 11 cases of variants have been identified in the Ponce region, seven cases in the San Juan metropolitan region, three cases in the Arecibo region, two cases in the Bayamón region, two cases in Mayagüez and another in Fajardo.

The date of sampling of those cases was between Jan. 11 and March 19.

“We care and want our people to take care of doing the right thing. In the inoculation process, we prioritize vaccination in older adults, and as a result we are seeing a significant drop in infections among older adults,” Mellado López said. “At the moment, we have only identified one person [with a variant] between 60 and 69 years old, eight cases in people between 50 and 59 years, seven cases between 40 and 49 years, four cases of people between 30 and 39 years, Also, seven people between the ages of 20 and 29 years were identified and, finally, a young person between the ages of 16 and 19.”