According to Nassau County health officials, a Glen Head resident has been diagnosed with the South African variant of Covid-19. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that this was the first case of the South African strain detected in New York.
According to Cuomo’s news release, sequencing of the strain was conducted at Opentrons Labworks Inc.’s Pandemic Response Lab in Manhattan, and was verified at the Wadsworth Center in Albany.
“We continue to see a reduction in positivity and hospitalizations throughout the state, which is good news, and this progress is allowing us to reopen the valve on our economy even further,” Cuomo said. “But with the discovery of a case of the South African variant in the state, it’s more important than ever for New Yorkers to stay vigilant, wear masks, wash hands and stay socially distanced. We are in a race right now — between our ability to vaccinate and these variants which are actively trying to proliferate — and we will only win that race if we stay smart and disciplined.”
Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease specialist with the Northwell Health system, said the South African strain is one of several variants that have emerged from the original Covid-19 strain. It has a set of mutations that make it different from the original strain, he said, and the result is that it is less able to be neutralized by currently available vaccines. The vaccines, however, still have value when defending against the strain, and would still help limit the virus’s most severe effects.
Although roughly 60,000 Americans test positive for Covid-19 every day, Hirschwerk said that doctors are only able to conduct genetic sequencing on about 1 percent of the cases. This means that more people may have the South African strain than health officials know. The Glen Head patient had not traveled to South Africa, he said.
“Really what it speaks to is that there is community spread of this strain,” Hirschwerk said. “When you start to see people have it that have no travel to South Africa and we know that that’s where it started, it is almost certainly reflective of community spread that is already out there.”
Treatment of the South African variant is no different than that of the standard Covid-19 strain. But, Hirschwerk said, monoclonal antibody treatment, most often used in older Covid-19 patients or patients with underlying conditions, may not be as effective against this strain.
Although less is known about the treatment of the South African variant than the standard Covid-19 strain, he said, it is still vital that people get vaccinated.
U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said it is important to be prepared, not scared, when unexpected problems like this arise. When he called the Nassau County Health commissioner, Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Suozzi said, he was told that the diagnosis was made 10 to 14 days ago and that the patient was immediately quarantined.
“As we face these different strains — the UK strain, which could be more deadly, or the South African strain, which is more contagious — it’s more important than ever that we don’t let our guard [down] over the next couple of months regarding social distancing and mask wearing and getting out vaccines,” Suozzi said. “We just need to contain this before it spreads.”
He added that he had confidence in President Biden’s plan to handle the coronavirus, because Biden is stressing the basics of preventing its spread. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel if we do this the right way,” Suozzi said.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran also said that following Covid-19 protocols is key when dealing with the new strain.
“Case numbers and positivity rates in Nassau County continue to drop, but we need to keep that progress going,” Curran said. “We don’t believe the South African variant is more deadly, but it may be more contagious.”