The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced today the detection of two cases associated with the SARS-CoV-2 variant that first emerged recently in South Africa. These are the first two cases of this variant in the United States.
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. 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.
Experts agree that existing vaccines work to protect us from this variant, even if we don’t know precisely how effective they are. At this time, there’s no evidence to suggest that the B.1.351 variant causes 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,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director. “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.”
At this point in time, there is no known travel history and no connection between these two cases. Both are adults; one from the Lowcountry and one from the Pee Dee region. To protect their privacy, no further information will be released.
The B.1.351 variant has been identified in more than 30 countries but these are the first cases of this variant identified in the United States. Other states have had cases of another, called B.1.1.7, originally identified in United Kingdom. Both variants originally detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa spread easier and quicker than the majority of SARS-CoV-2 variants.
The South Africa and United Kingdom variants emerged independently from each other and have different characteristics. Most variants do not change how the virus behaves and many disappear.
“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” Dr. 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.”
DHEC, in coordination with the CDC, will continue to watch out for COVID-19 variants. Public health officials will provide more information as it becomes available.
Safe and effective vaccines and following public health guidance are how to win the fight against COVID-19. For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine go to scdhec.gov/vaxfacts. For the latest information about COVID-19, go to scdhec.gov/COVID19.