Sometimes viruses go through changes that result in new versions of themselves, called variants. There are known variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19, that can cause even more complications for those who contract COVID-19. Being fully vaccinated is your best protection against variants.
Variants of a virus are not uncommon, and they're expected. The CDC and other national and international public health organizations are tracking multiple COVID-19 variants occurring around the world. In November 2020, the CDC officially launched the National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance (NS3) program to increase the number of viruses being tracked and studied.
The CDC has different classifications for variants: Variants of Interest, Variants of Concern and Variants of High Consequence. The current variants the CDC is tracking nationally are available on the CDC's website here. In South Carolina, DHEC tracks the same variants as the CDC. Visit DHEC's COVID-19 Variants dashboard.
DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory (PHL) staff are trained to perform SARS-CoV-2 whole-genome sequencing, which is the process used to identify a variant. Since June 2020, DHEC's PHL has been conducting sequencing on randomly selected samples as part of national efforts to identify variants, and In December 2020, the PHL supported increased national efforts to identify variants by sending 12 SARS-CoV-2 virus samples weekly to the CDC. From April 2020 to July 2020 DHEC sequenced all positive samples that were identified at the PHL.
As of August 2021, in light of the statewide and national surge in cases, DHEC has further increased the number of samples it's sequencing for variants. DHEC's PHL now performs whole genome sequencing (WGS) on a subset of positive samples: 48 samples a day are selected for WGS, 12 from each region (Lowcountry, Upstate, Pee Dee and Midlands). Visit DHEC's COVID-19 Variants dashboard, which is updated every Friday. In addition, the PHL also performs sequencing on vaccine breakthrough cases that are submitted.