UK and Brazilian coronavirus variants found in the Bay Area

Two new variants of the coronavirus have been found in the Bay Area, according to researchers at Stanford University.

A University spokesperson confirms a report by Bay Area News Group that a virology lab at Stanford discovered both the UK and Brazilian variants in the Bay Area, but did not say exactly where. 

With each change in the virus, there is an increased chance of the virus becoming more contagious, deadly, or possibly more resistant to current vaccines.

"If you immunize people as fast as possible that will actually just bring down the amount of virus in the community, so it gives it a lower chance of mutating," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF infectious disease specialist.

As Bay Area COVID-19 restrictions loosened this week, and California crossed a milestone with more than 40,000 deaths, the fact that coronavirus variants found in Brazil and the U.K. have made their way to the Bay Area is somewhat expected, according to experts.  

But not everyone is overly concerned.  "It doesn’t make me feel more worried," said David Ammons of San Mateo.

"Yeah, it’s bound to happen.  We just assumed it was going to happen," said Liz McAlpine of Berkeley.

The variants, found in virus samples tested at Stanford’s clinical virology lab, were first reported by Bay Area News Group and confirmed by KTVU.

The UK variant is thought to be roughly 50% more contagious, or sticky as UCSF doctor Peter Chin-Hong puts it, giving the variant one so-called superpower.

"The Brazilian variant may have two superpowers, not just stickier, but it may allow you to be reinfected with COVID."

So far, current and soon to be released vaccines are thought to be effective against variants, but to varying degrees.

One recent recipient of his first vaccine dose says the shot in the arm gave him a shot of confidence he can avoid a fatal blow from COVID.

"Because this will lessen the likelihood of my catching the severe disease I’m not as concerned," said Michael Loeb of Oakland.

Doctors say we are in a race against a more dangerous mutation becoming a dominant strain, and that ramping up vaccinations will help slow the virus’ ability to change.

But with limited testing for variants, it’s currently unknown exactly how fast they are spreading.

"Because in California we only test for... we only check about seven in every 30,000 cases, so when you see this lab has found a variant or that lab has found that variant, you know it's probably just the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. Chin-Hong.