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Greenville Business Magazine

S.C. Health Officials Detect Nation’s First Known Cases of Covid-19 Variant Originally in South Africa

Jan 28, 2021 12:27PM ● By David Dykes

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced Thursday 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, health officials said. 

Viruses are constantly changing, leading to the emergence of variants, the officials said. Variants are closely monitored for their ability to spread faster or cause more disease. 

South Carolina public health officials were notified late Wednesday 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 Wednesday identified a separate case of the same variant. 

Since June 2020, DHEC's Public Health Laboratory has been performing tests of random samples 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, health officials said.

They said experts agree that existing vaccines work to protect us from this variant, even if they 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 officials said.

“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, there is no known travel history and no connection between these two cases, health officials said. Both are adults; one from the Lowcountry and one from the Pee Dee region. To protect their privacy, no further information was being 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, health officials said..

“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.” 

DHEC, in coordination with the CDC, said it will continue to watch for COVID-19 variants.