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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

First Case Of South Africa Coronavirus Variant Identified In NC


North Carolina health officials on Thursday announced that the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa has been found in the state. The mutated version of the virus was detected in a sample from an adult in central North Carolina who had not recently traveled, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a press release.

The agency said the specimen was tested by LabCorp and selected for sequencing as part of a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The B.1.351 variant was first detected in South Africa in October. It appeared in the U.S. on Jan. 28, when two cases were discovered in South Carolina. As of Tuesday, according to NCDHHS, nine cases of the variant had been detected across South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia.

The North Carolina first case of a new coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom was discovered in a Mecklenburg County adult's test in late January.

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, constantly mutate into different versions or variants. Both the U.K. and the South African SARS-CoV-2 variants are thought to be more contagious than previous versions. There is also mounting evidence that at least the South African variant makes current coronavirus vaccines less effective.

Both Pfizer and Moderna, the companies that make the two federally approved coronavirus vaccines in the U.S., announced late last month that they are developing booster shots in an effort to protect against emerging variants.

“As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves,” Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, said in a statement on Jan. 25.

As NPR reported, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are roughly 95% effective against the old coronavirus variant, so a small drop in efficacy means they would still work.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a press release on Thursday that the arrival of the B.1.351 variant is “a reminder that the fight against COVID-19 is not over."

Meanwhile on Thursday, state health officials recommended wearing two masks, or “double-masking,” to help protect against the coronavirus. This came after research released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask offers more protection.

NCDHHS said masks should fit snugly against the wearer’s face and cover both the nose and mouth. It recommended against wearing two disposable face masks.

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