COVID cases in the United States have passed the 26 million mark as the new South African mutation has been found in another state.
A Covid patient being treated in hospitalCredit: EPA
The US has now seen 26,012,880 coronavirus cases and at least 438,239 people have died according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The sobering milestone comes exactly one year since the United States identified its first Covid-19 case on January 20 last year.
January is now the deadliest month in the pandemic in the United States.
Research shows the mutation is around 50 percent more transmissible than previous Covid strains.
But it is not thought to be any deadlier than the current known strains of coronavirus.
The first two US cases of the South African variant, known as B.1.351, were identified in South Carolina on January 28.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Saturday the new strain had been found an adult living in the Baltimore region.
The person didn’t have a recent history of international travel “making community transmission likely”, said Hogan in a statement.
“Comprehensive contact tracing efforts are underway to ensure that potential contacts are quickly identified, quarantined, and tested.”
“We strongly encourage Marylanders to practice extra caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this variant.
A woman being vaccinated in Washington State Credit: AFP or licensors
“Please continue to practice standard public health and safety measures, including mask-wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”
Other variants found in the US have originated from Britain and Brazil.
President Joe Biden signed a travel ban last week on most non-U.S. citizens entering the country who were recently in South Africa.
He also reinstated restrictions on the entry of non-US citizens from the UK and Brazil.
Andrew Stanley Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, said an increase in reports of new variants shows “weakness in our virus surveillance system”.
Regular Covid testing in the US does not differentiate between variants and the mutations can only be identified in specialized laboratories, he explained,
“My guess is that these viruses probably came here several weeks ago at least,” Pekosz told The Washington Post.