The Virginia Department of Health on Thursday announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.351, known as the South African variant, has been identified in a resident of Northern Virginia.
The sample was from an adult with no history of travel during the exposure period, the Virginia Department of Health said in a news release. No other information about the person was released.
The B.1.351 variant, which first emerged in South Africa in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that infections with this variant cause more severe disease, the health department said. To date, the B.1.351 variant has been identified in 20 other U.S. states or jurisdictions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been working with state public health, academic, and commercial laboratories to increase domestic strain surveillance capacity to sequence thousands of specimens every week.
"This effort has greatly expanded our ability to detect and characterize emerging viral variants in the United States. CDC notified Virginia of the case that was identified through these efforts at a commercial laboratory," the release said. "With the identification of this case in the Northern Region, Virginia has now identified a total of 20 cases of the B.1.351 variant and 49 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. With the combined state and national surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified."
Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads.
"As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures," the release said.
Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.