Two cases of the original South African variant of COVID-19 have been detected for the first time in the United States in South Carolina this month.
Brannon Traxler, the interim director of public health at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), said during Thursday's press conference there is no known travel history or connection between the two cases.
Both of the cases are adults. One case is from the Lowcountry and the other is from the Pee Dee region. Both cases were discovered during "routine surveillance sequencing" earlier this month.
Traxler said the public is just now hearing about the variants because the sequencing takes a longer amount of time.
"The urgency is still diagnosing somebody with whether they have COVID-19 ," Traxler said. "[COVID-19 sequencing] is not of as big of urgency as there is for actually diagnosing."
Traxler said since these individuals' contagious periods have passed, the SCDHEC is not concerned about widespread infection based on contact tracing efforts surrounding the two cases.
According to Traxler, the South African variant "spread[s] easier and quicker" but does not cause "more severe" illness and there is not enough data to suggest if the COVID-19 variants are more deadly than the original COVID-19 strains.
Traxler said the most prominent COVID-19 strain in South Carolina currently is the "normal" strain, which vaccines are effective against. She said current vaccines are expected to provide protection against the new strain.
"Certainly having the vaccine already and already being vaccinated is going to provide more protection than not being vaccinated," Traxler said.
However, The Wall Street Journal reported the Pfizer vaccine working against the new strains originating in the U.K. and South Africa have not been peer-reviewed and are preliminary.
According to Traxler, research in determining how much protection a prior COVID-19 infection will provide is also ongoing.
Traxler said the SCDHEC will continue to ask everyone to keep wearing masks, physically distancing and avoiding large crowds "regardless of any lockdowns" that may or may not result from this new variant. The SCDHEC is working to determine if they will recommend residents to double-mask.
"I think that we can continue to enjoy a somewhat normal lifestyle without having to do a lockdown if we all do those things, just take some extra precautions while we are out and about," Traxler said.