North Carolina health officials on Thursday announced the state’s first case of a concerning coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.
The variant, called B.1.351, was found in an adult residing in the central area of the state with no recent travel history, according to a release from the state health department. The case was uncovered through sequencing required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The strain is concerning because experts say it is more transmissible and likely more virulent than the original strain, meaning it may cause more severe illness. It has also shown to diminish efficacy from vaccines, and nearly escape antibody treatments. Several drug makers, including Moderna, are now working on variant booster shots in a bid for more protection against the variants.
“While we anticipated the arrival of the B.1.351 variant in N.C., it’s a reminder that the fight against COVID-19 is not over,” Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “The emergence of variants that are more infectious means it’s more important than ever to do what we know works to slow the spread — wear a mask, wash your hands, wait 6 feet apart, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”
The health department advised two layers of masks with a snug fit, specifically a two-layered cloth mask or a surgical mask and a cloth mask placed over it. Two disposable masks were not advised.
The state has administered over 1.5 million doses of vaccine, and eligibility will expand on Feb. 24 to include teachers and child care workers, though vaccine supply is currently limited.