Testing continues across South Carolina | Courtesy MUSC

South Carolina health officials said Thursday that two South Carolina patients tested positive for the first known American cases of a highly contagious strain of COVID-19 originating from South Africa.

“South Carolina public health officials were notified late yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a South Carolina sample that was tested at LabCorp and determined to be the B.1.351 variant originally identified in South Africa,” the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said in a press release at 11:25 a.m. Thursday.

The two patients who tested positive for the variant have no known travel history and no connection to each other, according to DHEC. One case is from the Lowcountry and the other was in the Pee Dee. No other information about the cases was made available by DHEC.

“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s interim public health director. “That’s why it’s critical that we all continue to do our part by taking small actions that make a big difference. These include wearing our masks, staying at least six feet apart from others, avoiding large crowds, washing our hands, getting tested often, and when we can, getting vaccinated. These are the best tools for preventing the spread of the virus, no matter the strain.”

DHEC said there is medical community consensus that existing COVID-19 vaccines do protect from variants, but it’s unknown how effective the treatments are.