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SD County Breaks 4K Case Mark On New Year’s; More Contagious Strain Spreading

A man getting nasal swapped for a coronavirus test at the Tubman-Chavez Commu...

Photo by Jacob Aere

Above: A man getting nasal swapped for a coronavirus test at the Tubman-Chavez Community Center, one of San Diego County's free testing sites, on Nov. 30, 2020.

San Diego County public health officials have reported 4,478 new coronavirus cases along with three additional cases of a new, more contagious variant of the virus first discovered in the U.K.

The County Communications Office reported 45 new hospitalizations on New Year's Day from the coronavirus, three of them in intensive care, along with 58 new deaths.

Those cases marked the 32nd consecutive day with more than 1,000 new infections and the 23rd overall with more than 2,000 new cases. It is the seventh time the 3,000 case mark has been crossed and the first time the 4,000-threshold has been reached.

San Diego County's cumulative totals are now 160,073 cases and 1,592 deaths.

The new cases of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, bring the total to four so far in San Diego County. The variant was first found in the U.S. on Tuesday in Colorado. The first San Diego case is in a man in his 30s with no history of travel, who first became symptomatic Dec. 27 and tested positive Dec. 29. He has been hospitalized and contact tracing is underway.

The additional three cases, reported by county health officials Thursday, were found in two men in their 40s and one in his 50s. Contact tracing shows two men did not travel outside of the county while the third case has yet to be fully interviewed. None of the men had any known interaction with each other or the other confirmed case.

RELATED: U.S. Surpasses 20 Million Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

The three newly confirmed variant cases were initially identified by helix during diagnostic testing, then confirmed by whole-genome sequencing by Scripps Research. The four individuals who have tested positive for the B.1.1.7. strain live in La Mesa, Mission Beach, Otay Mesa and the Carmel Mountain/Rancho Bernardo area.

Officials now believe that the new strain is widespread in the community.

"We believe that many more cases of the B. 1.1.7. strain will be confirmed in the coming days and weeks," said Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of the County Epidemiology and Immunizations Services branch. "This strain of the virus has been reported to be spread more easily in the U.K., and so it is, therefore, crucial that now more than ever before in this pandemic, we follow the public health orders and keep each other safe."

The 1,580 people hospitalized with the virus are a record and the 386 in the ICU with coronavirus are the fourth-most since the pandemic began.

The county is reporting 18% of its ICU beds remain available, but staffing limitations may make that a considerably smaller portion.

Regional hospitals have reported a 120% increase in the number of patients with COVID-19 hospitalized and a 91% increase in the number of patients sent to ICUs in the same time frame.

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