DHEC: First two cases of South African COVID-19 variant was discovered in South Carolina; first in nation

South Carolina News

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – State health officials announced on Thursday the first known cases of the COVID-19 variant that was originally detected in South Africa have been reported in South Carolina.

“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.”

Public health officials in South Carolina were notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday of a South Carolina sample that was tested at LabCorp and determined to be the B.1.351 variant originally identified in South Africa.

DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory also tested samples on Jan. 25 and yesterday identified a separate case of the same variant. 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.

DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory will continue to conduct this important sampling to identify any other changes in the virus.

“At this point in time, there is no known travel history and no connection between these two cases,” DHEC said in a release Thursday.

Both are adults; one from the Lowcountry and one from the Pee Dee region. To protect their privacy, no further information will be 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.

“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” Dr. 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, will continue to watch out for COVID-19 variants. Public health officials will provide more information as it becomes available.

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