40% of nation’s South African COVID-19 variant cases are in SC, study says

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Data from the CDC shows that 40% of the identified B.1.351 variant of the Coronavirus, commonly referred to as the South African variant, has been found in South Carolina.

With 32 cases, South Carolina has the lead over 59 U.S. territories and states, which has caused concern for those at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Michael Sweat, the Faculty Director of the Center for Global Health at MUSC, addressed the City of Charleston Tuesday night with his concerns.

According to Dr. Sweat, “the problem with these variants is that they have several problems—one is that they transmit much more easily.” He said the transmission is roughly 2 to 3 times higher than the original strain, but his concern is much more than just transmission.

As some of the variants may be able to evade immunity, medical professionals worry that it could lead to a situation where vaccines could become less effective. People might be able to get reinfected with the new variants and the South African variant is particularly of concern for them. 

Dr. Sweat said that to his knoweldge, the CDC and DHEC only sample half of a percent of the tests taken and does not sample on all of their PCR tests. Currently, there are 8 cases in the Lowcountry and 19 cases in the Pee Dee.

Dr. Jane Kelly, the Assistant State Epidemiologist, said that there’s a certain representative sample of tests that they send to the CDC, and they look for genomic testing to look for variants. She went on to note that the majority of the South African variants were from clusters of families.

She believes that there’s no public health reason to test for them so often despite an independent lab looking into the numbers. According to Dr. Kelly, the independent lab found a number of the B.1.351 variants, but she’s still not certain what flagged them and what led them to do the additional testing. 

Though the urgency differs from DHEC to MUSC on the South African variant, the two agree that to slow the spread means continued mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand hygiene.

Those with MUSC said while there are currently three identified COVID-19 variants, Brazil, U.K., and South African, they believe we need to better our position ahead of more being detected. 

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