COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina health officials have discovered two cases of a COVID-19 variant first found in South Africa in the Palmetto State.
These are the first two cases of this variant in the United States.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control said virus variants are common. All known variants of COVID-19 are “closely monitored for their ability to spread faster or cause more disease,” officials said.
While this variant does appear to spread more easily and quickly, at this time, there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, health officials said.
“The same mechanisms that protect you against this variant are what protect you against the so called normal COVID-19 virus,” said DHEC Interim Director Dr. Brannon Traxler.
Late Wednesday, the CDC notified state health officials that one sample contained the B.1.351 variant originally identified in South Africa. DHEC discovered the second case at its Public Health Laboratory.
Both South Carolina cases were found in adults: one from the Lowcountry and one from the Pee Dee region.
DHEC said there is no apparent connection between the cases or neither case involves any known travel history.
“We do not have concern at this time based on their contact tracing about there being the potential for any mass widespread transmission,” Traxler explained.
This particular variant has been detected in 30 other countries.
DHEC said the sequencing to look for strains takes time, and their first priority is notifying individuals if they have the virus.
“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director, 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 said “most variants do not change how the virus behaves and many disappear.” The agency added experts agreed the existing vaccines will work to protect the public from this variant.
But Moderna is working to upgrade its vaccine and develop a booster. That’s because they said it’s possible that immunity could decrease over time. Traxler said because the COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, the process of adjusting the vaccine should be quick. She added it’s likely the booster would come in the form of a third shot for those who have already received two doses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the following statement on the first cases of the South African variant found in South Carolina:
“CDC recommends that people avoid travel at this time. However, for those who must travel, additional measures have been put in place to increase safety; especially as COVID-19 variants spread around the world. As of January 26, all air passengers flying into the United States must provide a negative test result or documentation of recovery to the airline before they board a flight to the US. This is one aspect of the comprehensive, science-driven response to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through travel and in the United States.
“CDC’s recommendations for slowing the spread—wearing masks, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds, ventilating indoor spaces, and washing hands often—will also prevent the spread of this variant.”
Another variant of the virus, called B.1.1.7, originally showed up in the United Kingdom. That variant has not yet been detected in South Carolina.
Read more on the CDC’s website: Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants