Two cases of the new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa have been confirmed in Arizona, state health officials announced Friday.
The B.1.351 COVID-19 variant appears to spread at a faster rate than the original common strain of coronavirus. It was first detected in early October and first identified in the U.S. at the end of January.
Currently approved vaccines so far appear to be effective against this variant, although research is ongoing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is some evidence that one of the mutations in the variant could affect the work of antibodies, the CDC says.
The CDC identifies multiple variants of the virus that are circulating globally and nationally, including variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
State health officials previously have confirmed Arizona cases of the variants first identified in the United Kingdom and Brazil, which also are more transmissible.
“These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19,” the CDC says. “An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.”
The two B.1.351 cases were announced by the Arizona Department of Health Services, Maricopa County Department of Public Health and Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).
“It is typical for viruses to change through mutation as they continue spreading, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants appear and linger,” state health officials said Friday in a written statement.
“The discovery of this variant in the state is another reminder that Arizonans should get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can,” the ADHS statement said.
It’s unclear how widely this variant has spread in Arizona. The state health department is working with TGen, laboratories and the CDC to monitor the spread.
As of Thursday, the CDC was reporting 266 cases of the B.1.351 variant in 29 U.S. states. The Arizona cases disclosed Friday were not included in the latest national count.
The variant first identified in South Africa shares some mutations with the one first identified in the U.K., per the CDC. There is no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on the severity of the disease for those who get infected.
Other states where B 1.351 has been identified include California, Colorado and Texas. The CDC case numbers are from a sampling of SARS-CoV-2-positive specimens and do not represent the total B.1.351 lineage cases that may be circulating in the U.S. and may not match numbers from states, territories, tribes, and local officials, the CDC says.
The Arizona Department of Health Services recommends precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, physical distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick. The more widespread the coronavirus is in the community, the more it is replicating and mutating.
That’s why health officials say it’s important to contain the spread with mitigation measures and vaccinations.
About 17% of the Arizona population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and health experts say a vaccination level of about 70% or more is needed to reach a level of community immunity that’s high enough to ward off future outbreaks.
Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday lifted all remaining COVID-19 restrictions for businesses and removed the ability for localities to enforce mask mandates. The state health department still encourages people to wear masks when they’re in public or not yet vaccinated.
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