South Carolina officials detect first-known U.S. COVID-19 cases of variant from South Africa

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The first-known U.S. COVID-19 cases of a highly-contagious strain known as B.1.351, originating from South Africa, was discovered Thursday in South Carolina.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said two people have tested positive for the virus with the newly-discovered mutant variant.

The CDC notified South Carolina health officials that a sample tested at a LabCorp facility was found to be B.1.35 positive, the health department said Thursday. At the same time, the state’s own public health lab “identified a separate case of the same variant,” the South Carolina Department of Health said in a statement.

At least three mutated strains of the Coronavirus have been found in the U.S recently. Minnesota health officials on Monday identified the first U.S. case of a similar variant that was first detected in Brazil. The U.S. has also identified more than 300 cases including two in North Carolina of another strain from the U.K., known as B.1.1.7, according to recent data from the CDC.

According to Newsweek, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says COVID-19 vaccine suppliers are helping to combat any loss in the efficacy of the shot due to the mutant strains.

“We are being prudently cautious by already making moves toward developing booster shots that would specifically cover the mutants,” Fauci said, confirming that both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines, the two currently authorized for distribution in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, remain effective against the COVID-19 variants detected so far, including South Africa’s B.1.351 and the United Kingdom’s B.1.1.7 strain”

Fauci said during a White House press briefing Wednesday that the vaccine-induced antibodies might be less effective to combat the B.1.351 strain, though “it still is well within the cushion of protection.”

As of Thursday, over 1.163 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Carolinas, along with 15,632 deaths.