South African COVID-19 variant reaches Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — The COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa has made its way to Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The variant, known as B.1.351, was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Rock Island resident. B.1.351 first reached the United States at the end of January. It is currently not in Champaign County, but is expected to make its way here.

“Having this new variant in our community underscores the need to take personal precautions to prevent further spread,” Nita Ludwig, Rock Island County Health Department administrator said in a press release.

Previously, the United Kingdom variant, known as B.1.1.7, reached the United States around November 2020. That variant reached Champaign County on Feb. 2. As of Thursday, the state is reporting 22 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant.

“With reports of this variant already in many states in the U.S., we anticipated its spread here in Illinois,” Dr. Ezike Ngozi, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a press release at the time.

Both of these variants of COVID-19 are known to spread more rapidly compared to the original strain of the coronavirus. Health officials have continued to stress the importance of following social distancing guidelines, including wearing masks, avoiding crowds, staying six feet apart and washing hands frequently.

There is also a Brazilian COVID-19 variant, known as P.1, which has not reached Illinois, but is expected to do so. All three variants are expected to become the dominant from of COVID-19 by March or April 2021.

So far, studies suggest that the antibodies that are generated from the currently available COVID-19 vaccines offer protection from the new strains, however, studies are still underway.

In order to combat the rise in case for these variants, the IDPH has increased its surveillance systems, using genomic sequence testing on an increased number of specimens.

Jose Zepeda

Jose Zepeda is a senior at the University of Illinois majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. He is now on his third year with Good Morning Illini, previously serving as director, reporter and crew member. He is also currently a digital intern for WILL, the NPR- and PBS- affiliate in Urbana and vice-president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists University of Illinois chapter. He also has his own podcast with fellow GMI-er Angelle Cortes called Just Chillin’. He brings previous experience as a features intern at The News-Gazette and as a daytime news editor at The Daily Illini. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JoseZepedaTV.