Ventura, CA – A second COVID-19 mutation has been detected in Ventura County. An Oxnard sewage study result revealed the presence of a second mutation in a small amount of the COVID virus present in the sample. Oxnard has been testing samples of its wastewater on a weekly basis for a number of weeks. The new mutation was identified as N501Y. It is present in both the United Kingdom and South African variants.
This finding was made at the same time that cases of COVID are decreasing in the catchment area of the sewage plant. Approximately 250,000 people are served by this plant. The N501Y mutation was present in only 0.283% of all the COVID virus present in the sample. The sample was 99.2% of the original Wuhan COVID-19 virus. “The presence of this mutation in such a small amount of the sample tells me that this virus is not widespread in our County yet,” said Dr. Robert Levin, Health Officer.
At least 24 states in the United States have been documented to have the N501Y virus present. The first case was found in Colorado on December 29 and in California for the first time on December 30. It is not clear yet if this new virus in Ventura County is the UK variant or just happened to share some of its mutations. Testing to demonstrate this will take one to two weeks. The UK variant has 17 different mutations in its genetic code. Eight of those mutations occur in a critical part of the virus, called the spike protein, which reaches out and binds to human cells during the initial stages of infection. Whether or not this new mutation proves to be the UK variant, the presence of the N501Y mutation itself is associated with increased transmissibility.
While this mutation increases the transmissibility of the virus, it does not increase how deadly it is. “The UK virus, which contains this mutation, is still prevented by the vaccines that are in use in our County,” said Dr. Levin. “While the presence of this mutation is concerning, it was to be expected, it can still be controlled by social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands and avoiding gatherings. Evidence of this is that while this virus is probably present throughout the United States, the numbers of COVID infections are decreasing over the last week.”