Are you concerned about the new COVID-19 variant? Now that we have the COVID-19 vaccines being distributed in phases in the Commonwealth, should we be overly concerned over the recent announcement about a new variant of the virus being detected here?  

In case you missed it, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health this past Sunday announced via a press release that the first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 was detected in Massachusetts. Health officials say that it is the same variant that was initially discovered in the United Kingdom.  

The individual, a woman from Boston in her 20’s, developed symptoms in early January and tested positive for COVID-19. A genetic sample was sent to an out-of-state laboratory as part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s established surveillance process to identify COVID-19 variants. The State Public Health Laboratory was notified Saturday of the results. 

The Boston resident had traveled to the United Kingdom and became ill the day after she returned. She had tested negative prior to leaving the UK. The individual was interviewed by contact tracers at the time the initial positive result was received, and close contacts were identified. She was re-interviewed by public health officials after the variant had been identified as the cause of illness. 

Surveillance testing for the B.1.1.7 variant has been ongoing at the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory in collaboration with clinical diagnostic laboratories and academic partners. Surveillance consists of genomic sequencing on portions of COVID-19 positive specimens. 

As of Sunday, the CDC had reported 88 cases from 14 states in the United States. 

So... should you be overly concerned? Health officials say that you really just need to keep doing all the right things. 

Given the increased transmissibility of this variant and the number of states and other countries that have found infected cases, the Department expected the variant to arrive in Massachusetts eventually. The public health risk reduction measures remain the same. Individuals must continue to wear masks or face coverings while out in public, maintain 6-foot social distancing, stay home when you are sick, and get tested if you have symptoms or are identified as a close contact. 

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