Mass. health officials confirm first case of South Africa COVID-19 variant

Massachusetts has confirmed its first case of the COVID-19 variant that was originally identified in South Africa, health officials announced Tuesday evening. 

The state’s Department of Public Health said genetic sequencing completed at the Broad Institute has revealed a new case of the B.1.351 variant.

The woman who tested positive is in her 20s, from Middlesex County, and said she has not reported traveling recently.

In Massachusetts, there are currently 34 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, a different variation of the coronavirus initially found in the United Kingdom. State officials have yet to report any confirmed cases of the P.1. variant, which was originally detected in Brazil.

The first positive case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 virus variant, which has led to rapid surges in cases in the UK, was reported in the U.S. in late December. By Jan. 17, state officials had announced the first case in Mass. as well. 

Out of the 34 current reported cases, few are residents who have recently traveled, indicating that the majority of variant cases in the state have been community-acquired, the department said. 

These variants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.” Officials said the state’s laboratory is working with multiple healthcare and academic partners to identify new variants of concern in the Commonwealth by sequencing a subset of positive samples. 

Officials urged continued caution, reminding that the best way to combat the variants overall is by preventing the spread of the coronavirus.  


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