1st case of COVID-19 variant from South Africa identified in Eastern Virginia

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(WAVY) — Virginia Department of Health officials say the state’s first case of the COVID-19 variant that emerged in South Africa late last year has been identified in a person from Eastern Virginia.

As of Friday, Virginia is only the third state in the U.S. to have an identified case with that variant from South Africa, called the B.1.351 variant. The other states are South Carolina and Maryland.

The health department said Friday the variant was identified in an adult resident from the region. Health officials are investigating the case and looking into the person’s travel history.

The locality where the person lives was not released.

The B.1.351 variant is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, but isn’t known to cause more severe disease.

Another COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7, is also present in Virginia. That variant originated in the United Kingdom and is associated with more severe illness. As of Wednesday, there were four cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7, which were in Northwest Virginia and Northern Virginia.

“Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads,” the Virginia Department of Health said Friday.

The Virginia Department of Health said the emergence of new variants in Virginia means residents need to comply with mitigation measures sure as mask-wearing, staying home, physical distancing and more.

“The more people that become infected, the greater that chance the virus will mutate and a variant will arise that could undermine the current vaccination efforts,” the department wrote in a news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working with state public health, academic, and commercial laboratories to identify when new strains pop up in positive COVID-19 tests.

“The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth,” the department said.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website.

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