KDHE announces first case of South Africa COVID-19 variant uncovered in Finney County

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
The first case of the South African variant of COVID-19 has been discovered in Finney County, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced Friday.

The first case of the B.1.351 strain of COVID-19, also known as the South African variant, has been discovered in Finney County, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced Friday.

It comes as concern over COVID-19 variants continues to rise in Kansas and across the country. More than 323 cases of the South Africa variant have been uncovered in 31 states.

KDHE also said at least 76 cases of a variant originating in the United Kingdom, dubbed the B.1.1.7 strain, have been found in 14 counties across Kansas.

More:Shawnee County records three cases of more contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19

The agency said the new case was uncovered in its laboratories through whole-genome sequencing, where test samples are analyzed to determine their genetic makeup.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there is no evidence the South African variant is more serious than the more conventional strain of COVID-19. It is unclear if the newer variants are more contagious.

There also is differing evidence as to whether vaccines will guard against the newer strains of the virus. Trials of the Pfizer vaccine in South Africa appear to show it is successful in preventing transmission of that country's variant. The National Institutes of Health announced earlier this week that they were conducting similar studies on the Moderna vaccine.

KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said in a statement that Kansans should continue to wear a mask "that fits snuggly around the nose and face and has multiple layers of fabric or layering thinner masks with an additional cloth face mask to improve the fit."

More:Kansas governor reissues COVID-19 executive orders; GOP leaders revoke mask mandate

The news comes a day after Republican legislators moved to end the state's mask mandate, with members pointing to the improving COVID-19 situation in Kansas as a rationale for easing the restriction. Counties already had the ability to disregard the mask order, weakening its effectiveness.

KDHE reported a rise of 501 COVID-19 cases since Wednesday, as well as an increase of 19 deaths and 25 new hospitalizations.