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State says second case of coronavirus variant found in Massachusetts

Coronavirus vaccinations underway at at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough this week. Getting a large number of Americans vaccinated quickly is a key to stopping the worrisome new variant, according to scientists and public health experts.
Coronavirus vaccinations underway at at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough this week. Getting a large number of Americans vaccinated quickly is a key to stopping the worrisome new variant, according to scientists and public health experts.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The Department of Public Health says a second case of a new coronavirus variant has been found in Massachusetts, amid worries that the variant, which is more transmissible, could arrive in force and fuel a further increase in the state’s pandemic cases and deaths.

The department was informed Tuesday of the second case of the variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom, the DPH said in a statement Tuesday night. The “confirmatory lab test” was conducted by the State Public Health Laboratory, the DPH said.

The individual involved was a man in his 20s from Worcester County, the DPH said. The new case was reported two days after the first case was reported.

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The state has been grappling with a second surge of cases, though the numbers recently have subsided somewhat from peaks reached earlier this month.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a dire warning Friday about the possible impact of the variant. “I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the US in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The agency said its modeling suggested it was possible that the variant would become the predominant source of all infections in the United States by March. The CDC says it is monitoring the UK variant, as well as other variants that have emerged in South Africa and Brazil.

Officials and experts said even before the first case was detected, they suspected the UK variant was already in Massachusetts.

What should people do? The experts say that people should double down on precautionary measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds. Getting millions of Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible is another key to stopping the virus.

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“Concerns that the new variant could further exacerbate the pandemic in upcoming weeks should drive everyone to double down on prevention,’' Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a former assistant health secretary in the Obama administration, said Tuesday in an e-mail. “That includes continued social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding crowds and getting ready for the vaccine when it is your turn to do so.”

The DPH said Tuesday, “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.”

The DPH said surveillance testing for the variant has been “ongoing at the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory as well as in collaboration with clinical diagnostic laboratories and academic partners, including the CDC.”

The variant that emerged in southeast England in September, called the B.1.1.7 lineage, contributed to a spike in cases in December that sent the United Kingdom back into lockdown. It also prompted many places, including the United States, to halt air and train travel from the United Kingdom or impose new restrictions. Other countries have followed with tighter lockdowns, particularly in Europe. The variant had been detected by early January in dozens of countries or territories.

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Material from Globe wire services and prior reports was used in this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.