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Glen Head resident first New Yorker to be diagnosed with South African strain of Covid-19

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A Glen Head man has been diagnosed with the South African variant of Covid-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday. Cuomo said this is the first instance of the South African strain being detected in New York.

According to Cuomo’s press release, the sequencing of the strain was conducted at Opentrons Labworks Inc.’s Pandemic Response Lab in New York City and was verified at the Wadworth 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 off of the original Covid-19 strain. He said it has a set of mutations that make it different from the original strain and the end result is that it is less able to be neutralized by currently available vaccines. However, he said vaccines still have value when treating 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 doctors are only able to do genetic sequencing on about one percent of cases. He said this means that more people may have the South African strain than doctors know. The patient had not traveled to South Africa, he said, which means there are likely more cases in the community.

“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.”

Hirschwerk said treatment of the South African variant is no different than that of the standard Covid-19 strain. However, he said monoclonal antibody treatment, most often used in older Covid-19 patients or patients with underlying conditions, may not be as effective with this strain.

More to follow.

Although less is known about the treatment of the South African variant than the standard Covid-19 strain, Hirschwerk said it is still vital that people get vaccinated.