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There are now 5 cases of COVID variants in Massachusetts

The Pfizer vaccine being loaded into a syringe. The race is on to vaccinate people before new coronavirus variants fuel another surge of cases.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Five cases have now been confirmed in Massachusetts of the coronavirus variant that first emerged in Britain, public health officials said, as experts warned of a possible surge in cases and hospitalizations fueled by variants in coming weeks.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said three of the five cases were “associated with travel” and two were not.

Infections by the variant were found in a male in his 20s from Hampshire County; a male in his teens from Worcester County; a female in her 20s from Suffolk County; a female in her 50s from Worcester County; and a male in his 20s from Worcester County, the department said.

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The CDC says on its variant tracking page that 467 cases of the British variant have been found in 32 states; three cases of a variant that emerged in South Africa have been found in two states; and one case of a variant that emerged in Brazil has also been found.

So far Connecticut is the only other New England state where the variants have been detected. It has seen eight cases of the British variant, the CDC says.

“Variants remain a great concern and we continue to detect them in the United States,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said in a briefing on Monday.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, issued a dire warning about the new variant from Britain on Sunday on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press.”

“The fact is that the surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks, and if we see that happen, which my 45 years in the trenches tells we will, we are going to see something like we have not yet seen in this country,” he said.

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As the coronavirus mutates and new, more contagious variants spread with alarming speed, the United States and the rest of the world are racing to vaccinate as many people as possible, the Globe reported last week. Vaccinating people will not only protect them from getting sick, but it will prevent further mutations from occurring by the shape-shifting virus.

“There is a fact that permeates virology, and that is that viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate. And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser on the pandemic, said in a briefing Monday.

Osterholm said it is time to make sure as many people as possible got their first doses of the vaccines. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are the only ones approved in the United States so far, are two-dose vaccines.

The concerns about the variants come as the surge that began in the fall appears to be subsiding somewhat, both nationally and in Massachusetts.

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


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