First case of South African COVID variant confirmed in Reno

Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 11:50 AM PST|Updated: Feb. 18, 2021 at 10:49 AM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - UPDATE: The Nevada State Public Health Lab has confirmed the first case of the South African variant of COVID-19 in the area.

The new strain was detected in a sample collected in Reno. The NSPHL sequenced the specimen on Saturday, Feb. 13, and through further analyzation of the data that detected the B.1.351 strain, confirmed it as the South African variant on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the variant has been detected in 10 U.S. states, to-date.

The B.1.351 strain was traced back to a traveler from South Africa who became symptomatic after arriving in Reno.

Dr. Pandori says this strain “may be less susceptible to neutralizing antibody such as those generated by vaccines, but it is not yet known to cause a more severe illness and is not thought to be more lethal than the regular COVID-19 strain.” He added that “there is some evidence that it may be less susceptible to vaccine-mediated immunity, however it does not render the COVID vaccine totally ineffective.”

“The virus is copying itself very often now, and that is what leads to variation. It happens through a process called ‘mutating’,” says Pandori. “The more a virus spreads in a community, the more opportunities it has to make mistakes when it copies itself. This leads to what we see here and it’s a very natural part of viral evolution.”

More information is expected Thursday during a news conference.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Washoe County Health District says there is a possibility there may be a case of the South African variant of COVID-19 in the area.

A traveler returned from South Africa and has since tested positive for COVID. The state lab is working to confirm whether the patient has a variant of the disease.

Washoe County Health Officer Kevin Dick says, even if the variant has not been confirmed, “We do know that the variants are out there. We do have international travel occurring. We also have people in this country who have tested and have the UK variant who have not traveled, don’t have that travel history.” Dick adds if the variants are not in Northern Nevada yet, the variants will reach the area eventually because of how fast the variant forms spread.

The Health District says it has administered nearly 38,000 vaccines to date. 6.5% of Washoe County residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Researchers are trying to determine if the current vaccinations against COVID-19 are also effective against the South African or other variants. Experts are concerned about the COVID mutations because they appear to spread more readily and there is concern about whether the vaccines in use will be effective against them.

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