(RICHMOND, Va.) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.351 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Eastern Virginia. VDH is currently investigating this case and assessing the person’s travel history. 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. To date, the B.1.351 variant has been identified in only two other U.S. states, South Carolina and Maryland.
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. In addition to this case of the B.1.351 variant, four cases of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 variant have now been identified in Virginia. 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. We are in a race to stop the spread of these new variants. The more people that become infected, the greater that chance the virus will mutate and a variant will arise that could undermine the current vaccination efforts.
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. VDH encourages all Virginians to use COVIDWISE to send and receive anonymous exposure notifications based on positive COVID-19 test results. As of 2/4/2021, COVIDWISE has 990,227 users and anticipates reaching one million downloads within the coming week.
The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. To date, DCLS has sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples received by the state lab, and is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.
For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.
Contact: Logan Anderson, Logan.Anderson@vdh.virginia.gov