Health officials announced Thursday new cases of COVID-19 variants across the state, including at least one variant in Coos County.
Mutations which have the potential to spread more quickly, be more resistant to vaccines or cause more severe symptoms are expected in any virus, according to the CDC, but can raise concerns about virus spread.
Coos Health & Wellness officials didn’t yet know which specific virus variant has been discovered in the county: The CDC has defined three “variants of interest” and five “variants of concern” from across the world, each with different attributes that influence their behavior.
“I can’t speak to which variant it is, I just know that there is one,” said Dr. Eric Gleason, a CHW spokesperson Thursday. “And ostensibly, what variant it is has little to do with the measures that we would take to prevent it. We would maintain the same preventative measures that we did when this whole thing started, and that we should continue to do regardless of whether or not you’re vaccinated.”
The specific variants are sequenced and reported to the county by the Oregon Health Authority, Gleason said.
Also on Thursday OHA announced nearly 200 previously unreported cases of two variants which originated in California. Those variants, known as B.1.427 and B.1.429 are about 20% more transmissible and have a “significant impact” on the effectiveness of some virus treatments, as well as a “moderate reduction” in vaccine performance, according to the CDC.
“These variants have been circulating in Oregon since late 2020 and had not been previously reportable,” wrote OHA spokesperson Rudy Owens in an email Thursday. “OHA has reviewed historical data in the open-source sequencing data platform GISAID and has identified more than 190 B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants to date in Oregon.”
Owens declined to specify if the variant identified in Coos County was one of those cases, but added the state would be changing how it acquires and reports variant data to provide a “comprehensive picture of variant circulation in Oregon.”
CHW’s Gleason said a variant of the virus could have been circulating in the county for months.
“It, more or less, has probably been here for the last two months,” Gleason said. “That could be why we saw such high numbers in the last couple months, because there was a variant that may have been going around that was significantly more infectious — we just don’t know all of the numbers around that right now.”
That spike — which came with 10 virus-related deaths in March alone — has been on a slow downswing in the county for the past few weeks.
“Our numbers are going in the right direction,” Gleason said. “So hopefully after the spring break numbers kind of shake out in the next few weeks, we’ll have a better understanding of where we’re at.”
That means the county still has a chance to drop out of the extreme-risk category of virus restrictions next week.
Still, Gleason said the discovery of a variant in the county is a reminder of the importance of pandemic safety measures.
“That would be the perfect situation, is that we’ve already seen that and that we’re moving in the right direction doing the things we need to do,” Gleason said. “But we need to be mindful of the fact that its in the area and that we need to take those extra steps.”
Cases statewide tick up, deaths and hospitalizations down
New cases reported across the state increased by around a quarter in the week ending March 28 compared to the prior week, according to OHA’s weekly report Wednesday.
COVID-19 related hospitalizations were around the same for the week as the week before, but only 10 deaths were reported statewide during that week.
That’s the lowest death count in the state since June, according to OHA.
Most South Coast ZIP codes still seeing new cases
Almost all ZIP code regions along the South Coast are still seeing new virus cases from week to week, according to state data from the March 22 to 28 timeframe.
In that period, the Coos Bay and North Bend areas reported a combined 41 new cases, bringing the Bay Area’s total since the pandemic began to 1,237. Bandon reported seven new cases for a pandemic total of 80.
Brookings, Gold Beach, Reedsport, Myrtle Point, Lakeside and Coquille also reported new cases. A full list of each ZIP code’s pandemic case count is below./available online at theworldlink.com.
COVID-19 ZIP Code Counts
The chart below shows the number of COVID-19 cases reported in each ZIP code by the Oregon Health Authority since the pandemic began. The data is listed for the week prior to the reporting date. The Powers 97466 ZIP code is not included in the state data because of its low population.