New variants of COVID-19 raise concern for public health officials

A new variant of the coronavirus made its way into the U.S. on Thursday, according to the Washington Post. Two people in South Carolina tested positive for the B. 1.351 variant that originated in South Africa. Both of them are unrelated with no travel history.

This information raises concern as to how they contracted the new variant and if it is beginning to circulate around the community.

In the U.S., there are three “variants of concern” including the newly detected variant. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, these variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.

There is no current evidence that the variants cause more severe illness or an increase in death. But, an increase in the number of cases will put a strain on healthcare resources, require more hospitalizations and more deaths.

At this time, Scientists are working to see how the currently authorized vaccines will protect people against the variants. According to the Washington Post, many scientists believe that the virus will work against the new variants in the upcoming months, but vaccine companies are still planning to come up with new forms of the vaccine to be safe.

Public health officials are also trying to understand how fast the variants actually spread from person to person, if the variants cause more or less illness, if the variants can be detected by currently available viral tests and how the variant responds to medicine that is currently being used to treat people with COVID-19.

“At this time, we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease. Like the UK and Brazilian variants, preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants,” the CDC told the Washington Post Thursday in a statement responding to the South Carolina cases.

The CDC suggests that receiving the vaccine, maintaining physical distancing practices, the use of masks, hand-washing and quarantining are essential to limiting the spread of the new variants.

“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” Brannon Traxler, interim director of the South Carolina public health department, told the Washington Post in a statement released Thursday. “That’s why it’s critical that we all continue to do our part by taking small actions that make a big difference.”

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