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South African COVID strain discovered in the US for the first time

Published Jan 28th, 2021 6:21PM EST
South Africa Covid Strain
Image: Fabian/Adobe

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  • A South African strain of the coronavirus was discovered in the U.S. for the first time today.
  • The new COVID mutation is said to be 50% more contagious than the original strain.
  • There’s a worry that existing COVID vaccines may be less effective against new coronavirus mutations.

As the U.S. races to vaccinate a majority of the country, new COVID strains from abroad are threatening to cause yet another spike in coronavirus infections. A COVID strain from the UK — which is said to be 56% more contagious than the original strain — has already been discovered in more than 20 states. Further, an equally aggressive COVID strain from South Africa was discovered in the U.S. for the first time on Thursday.

The discovery was made in South Carolina earlier today and many health experts believe that other people in the area likely have it as well. As it stands now, two people in South Carolina tested positive for the new strain, and neither of them — it’s worth noting — traveled to South Africa themselves. Consequently, the odds that the new strain is already circulating within some communities is quite high.

The arrival of the South African COVID mutation to the US highlights that “the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” South Carolina interim public health director Dr. Brannon Traxler said in a statement. “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 South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control added:

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 African strain is particularly worrisome because, like the UK strain, it’s said to be far more contagious than the original. There are also concerns that existing COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna may be less effective against the South African mutation. It is worth noting that the new strain isn’t believed to be more deadly than the original strain.

In the wake of these new COVID mutations, the CDC this week instituted a new rule requiring travelers flying into the U.S. to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test before being allowed to board. Travelers who already had COVID and recovered will need to provide a doctor’s note and proof of a positive viral test.

All the while, efforts to boost the vaccination rate in the U.S. remain ongoing. The good news is that the U.S. is now vaccinating about 1.2 million Americans per day and President Joe Biden believes that figure can jump to 1.5 million per day in the near future.

“It’s going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we’ve ever tried in this country,” Biden said, “but I think we can do that.”

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.