Jan. 28, 2021 -- The United States’ first confirmed cases of the South African coronavirus variant have been detected in South Carolina, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said in a news release.
One case was found in the Pee Dee region in the northeast section of the state, and the other in the Lowcountry along the coast. The two adults have no travel history and have no known connection. DHEC did not describe their condition.
The CDC notified the state on Wednesday that a South Carolina sample tested at LabCorp proved to be the South African variant, DHEC said. DHEC's Public Health Laboratory found the other case.
The South African variant -- also known as B.1.351 -- has been found in more than 30 nations. Health experts say it appears to be highly communicable but no deadlier than other strains.
“At this time, we have no evidence that infections by (the South African) variant cause more severe disease,” the CDC said in a news release. “Like the UK and Brazilian variants, preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants.”
Will vaccines stop the variant?
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said current COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective against new coronavirus variants, but they should be strong enough to still be beneficial.
The vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have such high efficacy rates that it creates a “cushion effect,” Fauci said, meaning that new variants will likely only diminish vaccine efficacy slightly.
DHEC noted that “experts agree” that existing vaccines work against the variant “even if we don’t know precisely how effective they are.”
“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.”
The United States’ first case of the Brazilian variant was reported earlier this week in Minnesota.
The U.K. variant, which may be deadlier than other variants, has been found in at least 26 states, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday, according to CBS News.
Moderna says it is now investigating whether a third dose of its vaccine will better prevent the spread of the South African variant.
President Joe Biden on Monday limited noncitizens from entering the United States if they’ve been in South Africa in the last 14 days.