SC DHEC testing weekly for new COVID-19 variant strains

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – As of Friday morning, SC DHEC has found no reported cases in the state, but said its team is testing genome samples of SARS-CoV-2 weekly for new variants.

The Georgia Department of Health has reported 5 cases of a COVID-19 variant thus far.

The S.C. State Emergency Response Team told 7News Friday morning that SC DHEC is testing 24 samples each week and sending another 10 samples to the every other week in a search for mutations.

A response team member said DHEC’s Public Health Lab (PHL) has trained staff for SARS-CoV-2 whole-genome sequencing, three Illumina Miseqs sequencing instruments, and two automated Library prep machines. The PHL started sequencing in June of 2020 and now routinely performs sequencing on SARS-Cov-2, Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Campylobacter for outbreak surveillance detection.

According to the S.C. State Emergency Response Team, 10 random samples are selected each week that fit the CDC criteria for submission. They are in the process of reviewing all positives from December through the present for samples that were negative for the S gene, which is the gene that is missing in the variant. Information on these samples will be shared with CDC.

The most recent update on SC DHEC’s website about COVID-19 variants states “at this point, this newest form of the virus does not appear to have an impact on how effective the available vaccines are. The virus would likely need to change multiple times to overcome the immunity provided by vaccines.”

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that researchers at Rockefeller University have found that the current vaccines seem to offer protection against new variants.

The research was led by Rockefeller University in New York with scientists from the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere, and tested coronaviruses from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a news conference that the new strains, including one from the U.K. and another from South Africa, are more contagious than the original strain and could increase the number of cases, therefore causing more hospitalizations and deaths. However, he said the variants do not appear to cause more serious disease.

“Even though the virus on a one to one basis isn’t more serious, the phenomenon of a more transmissible virus is something that you take seriously,” Dr. Fauci said.

Mayo Clinic vaccine expert Dr. Gregory Poland told the Associated Press Wednesday that he believes vaccines alone will not solve the pandemic problem regardless, and that everyone must continue to wear masks and social distance to gain control over the spread of the virus.

To follow SC DHEC’s updates on COVID-19 mutations, click here.

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