COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed South Carolina has recorded the first two cases of the COVID-19 variant found in South Africa.
The discovery marks the first two cases of this variant found in the United States.
DHEC officials say 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.
She did say both patients were “doing well” and were outside of their contagious period.
Trident Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lee Biggs said both the COVID vaccine and monocolonal antibody therapy currently being used are proving to be effective against the South African variant.
“The monoclonal antibody treatment Bamlanivimab is appropriate for early-COVID patients considered to be at high risk of being hospitalized,” Biggs said. “At Trident Medical Center more than 400 people have received Bamlanivimab. It has proven to be 97% effective in keeping our high risk patients out of the hospital.”
“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,” DHEC Interim Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler 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.”
South Carolina public health officials were notified late Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 Monday and Wednesday identified a separate case of the same variant.
Health experts believe existing vaccines will be effective in protecting people from the variants of the original strain.
There is no evidence so far that the B.1.351 variant causes more severe illness.
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.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement Thursday saying it is “early in its efforts to understand this variant.”
“At this time, we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease,” the statement read. “Like the UK and Brazilian variants, preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants.”
CDC officials are recommending people avoid travel as they work to study the variants of the novel coronavirus.
Those who must travel will see additional measures put in place to increase safety, “especially as COVID-19 variants spread around the world,” the statement read.
As of Tuesday, all air passengers flying into the United States must provide a negative test result or documentation of recovery to their airline before they will be allowed to board a flight to the United States.
The CDC also recommends wearing masks, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds, ventilating indoor spaces and washing hands often.
Viruses are constantly changing, leading to the emergence of variants, DHEC officials say. They closely monitor those variants to determine whether they can spread faster or cause more disease.
B.1.351 is one of three major variants discovered so far, according to the CDC.
The UK variant, also known as B.1.1.7, emerged with an unusually large number of mutations and has been detected in numerous countries including more than 20 states in the United States. As of last Friday, no cases of the B.1.1.7 had been reported in South Carolina.
A third variant, dubbed the Brazilian variant or P.1, was identified in four travelers from Brazil who were tested during routine screening at Haneda airport outside Tokyo. This variant has 17 unique mutations, including three in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein.
“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.”
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, a process they will continue to identify any other potential changes in the virus.