SACRAMENTO (AP/CB13) – Gov. Gavin Newsom said that California has identified the state’s first two cases of the South African variant of COVID-19.

The cases were found in Alameda and Santa Clara counties, both in the San Francisco Bay Area, Newsom said while also touting the overall positive trends in the state’s control of the virus.

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In total, the state has less than 1,500 identified cases of different variants, Newsom said.

Scientists and health officials fear the variants could be more contagious, less responsive to treatments and more likely to re-infect people who already had the virus. The South African variant was first identified in the United States late last month in South Carolina.

“The issue of mutations is top of mind,” Newsom said during a visit to Fresno, the latest in a series of stops across the state to highlight vaccination efforts.

It was a dim note in an otherwise upbeat press conference, as Newsom announced that California’s infection rates, hospitalizations and cases continue to fall rapidly.

Less than 5% of people tested are now turning up positive results and daily confirmed infection cases have dropped to about 8,400 from a high of more than 50,000 a month ago, he said. More than 5 million vaccine doses have been administered.

Local and state elected officials, mostly Democrats, showered Newsom with praise for his handling of the coronavirus.

But a protester using a megaphone shouted “recall Gavin” during the news conference, a reference to the ongoing signature-gathering effort that is likely to gain enough backing to give voters the opportunity later this year to keep or fire the freshman Democrat.

“I don’t care that you’re Democrat or Republican, I care that you’re healthy and safe,” Newsom answered when asked to respond to the recall effort.

He said he’s been focused on getting kids back in schools, vaccinating Californians and reducing case rates so that businesses may reopen.

On schools, Newsom said he will soon reveal a plan for reopening them, crafted in partnership with the Legislature.

But most districts have rejected Newsom’s earlier reopening plan and it wasn’t clear if or how the plan could compel districts to open for in-person instruction because schools are governed by local control.

Newsom’s vaccination road tour came as California prepares to shift operations from a county-driven vaccine effort to a centralized approach run by Blue Shield of California. Newsom said the state will release the contract with the major health insurer this week and that the new program will be up and running by next week.

The goal of the new approach is to better collect data on who is getting vaccinated and to provide more transparency on how much vaccine is going where, he said.

The Biden administration is now giving the state a three-week preview of how many vaccine doses to expect, and the state is trying to give counties a similar forecast.

“This is dynamic and as you know well we’ve had fits and starts over the course of the last few months,” Newsom said.

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It’s not clear how the new state vaccination system will work with systems already created by the counties, including portals where people can sign up for vaccinations.

Santa Clara County has asked for an exemption from the state sign-up portal, called MyTurn. Orange County health officials said they don’t want to ask people who already registered for appointments with the county system to have to sign up again with the state.

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Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.