COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The United Kingdom COVID-19 variant has been found in South Carolina. DHEC officials announcing this morning that one adult from the Lowcountry has the variant strain that has been detected in 30 other states across the United States.
It comes just two days after DHEC announced two cases of the South African COVID-19 variant in the state, with one in the Lowcountry and the other in the Pee Dee region.
“The arrival of the second SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is yet another important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” DHEC’s Interim Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said in a news release on Saturday.
“It was only a matter of time before one of these variants snuck into South Carolina,” University of South Carolina Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Dr. Michael Schmidt said.
Health experts said it’s normal for a virus to develop variants, but it’s a reminder that the fight against COVID-19 is not over.
“This is a wake-up call to all of us that as the virus uses its devices to evade pressure, particularly immunological pressure, that we will continue to see mutants,” NIAID Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said during a CNN interview on Friday.
However, big questions remain—including do these strains spread faster or cause more disease?
“The short answer is we don’t know,” Dr. Schmidt said.
DHEC officials said there’s no conclusive evidence that the UK or South African variants cause more severe illness. Further, Dr. Schmidt said evidence shows that mechanisms for treating COVID-19 are working regardless of the variant.
“It matters not which variant you get, because those schemes are still working,” Dr. Schmidt said. “They are still working against the variants.”
The other big question surrounds whether the current vaccines will still work protecting against the variants.
“It seems based on preliminary data that both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines, which are both mRNA vaccines, do seem to work on the UK variant,” Prisma Health Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine Dr. Divya Ahuja said. “Just recently published data on the South African variant suggests that it might have reduced efficacy in reducing the South African virus.”
Dr. Fauci said yesterday it’s going to be important to medically adjust versions of the vaccine to mutations that are prevalent at any given time.
Dr. Traxler said these variants are one reason to vaccinate as many people as possible, as soon as possible.
DHEC officials said there is a third variant that originated in Brazil that is also spreading around the world. However, this variant has not been detected yet in South Carolina.
When it comes to protecting yourself, health experts stressed that it’s critical to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, avoid crowds, wash hands, and get tested often. Dr. Schmidt said a mask is a critical barrier to protecting yourself from the virus, and protecting others from any virus you might have.
“So one is an absolute, you must wear one,” Dr. Schmidt said. “But if you have two, it can only help. It will only serve to lower the risk of you spreading it or you catching it.”