Lamont: First CT resident tests positive for 'South African' COVID variant

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Gov. Ned Lamont’s office announced Monday the first case of the so-called “South African” COVID variant has been detected in a Connecticut patient whose “condition is improving.”

In a news release, officials said this is the first known case of the variant in a Connecticut resident.

The patient, a Fairfield County resident between the ages of 60-70, has not reported any recent travel and is currently hospitalized out of state, according to officials.

New York health officials reported the variant case this past weekend and worked with the Connecticut Department of Health to complete contact tracing.

The B.1.351 strain — initially detected in South Africa in October 2020 — was first discovered in the United States toward the end of January.

There is no evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting the B.1.351 variant has any impact on disease severity at this time, the state said.

Dr. David Banach, head of infection prevention and an associate professor of medicine at UConn Health, said this variant has not been associated with being more serious.

Like the U.K. variant, the South African one is more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus, officials said.

Connecticut has reported 42 cases of the U.K. — B.1.1.7 — variant within its borders and now is warning about the new strain.

“Seeing another variant in our state reminds us yet again the severity of this pandemic and reinforces the need for us to take all of the necessary precautions which have proven to be successful over the past year,” Lamont said.

“The virus does not recognize state boundaries, and it certainly does not recognize international borders, which means the responsibility is on all of us to do what we can on a personal basis to mitigate the spread,” he added.

Public health officials emphasized the need for continued caution and mitigation strategies including mask-wearing, social distancing, isolating when sick and avoiding gathering with individuals who do not live in your household.

Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said Connecticut residents should follow recent CDC guidance calling for “double masking in certain circumstances.”

“With the variants currently circulating in the United States and in Connecticut, it is more important than ever to prevent transmission of the virus. We do that by ensuring that masks are being worn correctly and are as effective as possible. Masks should always cover the nose and mouth completely. In some instances, a cloth mask along with a surgical mask may be the best approach according to the CDC, in order to prevent droplets from escaping or entering through gaps in masks,” Gifford said.

The CDC found studies suggesting current COVID vaccines recognize the variants but continue to study each variant’s form to learn more about it.

Banach said data shows the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines generate high levels of neutralizing antibodies against this particular strain, the B.1.351.

“We still have to learn about the overall impact of this strain in the vaccine response but, the fact that at least we identified those neutralizing antibodies implies there’s going to be some protection from these variants,” he said.

When asked if the state had plans to alter restrictions, Max Reiss, the governor’s spokesperson, said, “we’re continuing to tell residents to keep wearing masks, avoid gatherings and take the common-sense approach which has worked successfully since the beginning of the pandemic.”

News of the first “South African” variant case comes as the state topped over 100,000 vaccine doses distributed to long-term care residents since late December.

The state also reported 2,905 new coronavirus cases and 66 more deaths for a positivity rate of 2.98 percent since Friday. Hospitalizations continue decreasing and the state is experiencing fewer reported tests than in previous months.