First 2 U.S. cases of COVID-19 variant from South Africa detected


COLUMBIA, SC South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials announced Thursday they have detected two cases associated with the SARS-CoV-2 variant in South Carolina, which first emerged recently in South Africa.

According to the release, these are the first two cases of the COVID-19 variant in the U.S.

“Viruses are constantly changing, leading to the emergence of variants. Variants are closely monitored for their ability to spread faster or cause more disease. South Carolina public health officials were notified late yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a South Carolina sample that was tested at LabCorp and determined to be the B.1.351 variant originally identified in South Africa,” according to DHEC’s news release. “Also, DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory tested samples on Jan. 25 and yesterday identified a separate case of the same variant. Since June 2020, DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory has been performing tests of random samples in order to identify any instances of the variant viruses. DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory will continue to conduct this important sampling to identify any other changes in the virus.”

DHEC officials said in the release that experts agree that the existing COVID-19 vaccines will work to protect us from this variant, and while they are unsure of how effective they are there’s no evidence that the B.1.351 variant causes a more severe illness.

“The arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director, said. “While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited. Every one of us must recommit to the fight by recognizing that we are all on the front lines now. We are all in this together.”

DHEC officials said there is no travel history or connection between the two cases, but said both cases were found in adults — one from the Lowcountry and one from the Pee Dee region.

According to the release, this variant — B.1.351 — has been found in more than 30 countries, but these two cases are the first cases of the variant in the U.S.

Other states in the U.S. have identified another variant — B.1.1.7 — and both variants are known to spread easier and quicker than the majority of the SARS-CoV-2 variants, according to DHEC.

“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” Traxler said. “That’s why it’s critical that we all continue to do our part by taking small actions that make a big difference. These include wearing our masks, staying at least six feet apart from others, avoiding large crowds, washing our hands, getting tested often, and when we can, getting vaccinated. These are the best tools for preventing the spread of the virus, no matter the strain.” 

According to the release, DHEC officials will coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to watch out for COVID-19 variants, and public health officials will give more information as it becomes available.

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