Maryland confirms South African coronavirus variant


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Saturday that the state confirmed a case of a coronavirus variant initially detected in South Africa.

The case was confirmed in an unnamed adult Baltimore resident with no abroad travel history, which suggests the variant is likely circulating in the community, the governor’s office said.

“The B.1.351 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus first detected in South Africa has been identified in Maryland,” Hogan wrote in a Tweet. “We continue to closely track new variants, and ask Marylanders to limit transmission by wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, and washing your hands.”

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The news comes as Maryland has administered at least 535,638 vaccines in a state with roughly 6 million people. The seven-day average for daily vaccinations stands at over 25,000.

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The state also appears to be gradually descending from a turbulent winter in terms of case counts, when daily infections topped 3,700 on Dec. 4 and again on Jan. 8 and Jan. 9, per state data. Maryland logged less than 2,000 daily cases on Jan 31. and Feb. 1.

The statewide positivity rate is at 5.61%, with total confirmed cases around 355,600 and nearly 7,000 fatalities tied to the novel virus.

The coronavirus strain initially detected in South Africa is not the only mutated strain likely circulating within Maryland. The governor’s office announced two confirmed cases of a highly transmissible U.K. strain on Jan. 12. That figure has since climbed to at least eight cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Scientists believe the U.K. strain spreads about 50% to 70% more easily from person to person, and some experts suggest the B.1.1.7 strain may even be more deadly.

Early findings also suggest vaccines will remain effective against the strains, though the South African strain, in particular, has reduced efficacy. For instance, recent findings from Novavax reveal its vaccine is 89% against COVID-19 illness, but plummeted to 60% among trial volunteers in South Africa. Including volunteers with HIV, overall the protection against the South African variant was 49%, the company said. 

Maryland marks the second state in the country to announce a case of the South African strain, following earlier reports out of South Carolina on Thursday.



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