California's governor and the state's top health official said Monday they are worried about a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 showing up overseas.
So far, the mutant strain has shown up primarily in the United Kingdom, prompting a last-minute Christmas lockdown. It has not made its way to California at this point, but the state is now considering whether to institute new travel restrictions to keep it out.
"The new mutated COVID virus seems to bind a little tighter, a little more easily and enter the cell of the human body easier than our current COVID virus that we have here primarily in California and the United States," California Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said.
As the state looks at potential travel restrictions for those coming from the impacted areas, more than half a dozen European and African countries have already banned travel from the UK.
"The last thing we want to do is let a new strain of COVID come and spread more rapidly or easily across the state," Ghaly said.
Beginning Tuesday, passengers headed to New York from the UK will have to have a negative COVID-19 test before they can board. British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic all agreed to do the testing after New York's governor said he's worried the strain could spread.
"I know and I believe my intuition is correct that this is another disaster waiting to happen," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Health officials said it doesn’t appear the new strain is resistant to vaccines but acknowledge there are a lot of unknowns.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said state health officials are closely monitoring for the mutant strain.
"We test anywhere from five to 10,000 samples every single day for mutations, for modifications in terms of the genomic sequencing," he said.
NBC Bay Area's Roz Plater contributed to this report.