The Department of Public Health on Sunday reported 19 new cases of the United Kingdom coronavirus variant in Massachusetts, bringing the total number of infections in the state caused by the COVID-19 mutation to 29.
The variant, also referred to as B.1.1.7, which is more easily spread than the common strain of COVID-19, caused a rapid surge of cases in the UK and other countries, as well as in California and Florida.
Of the 19 new cases reported Sunday, all but five involved people in Worcester County, according to the state.
Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, who directs Boston College’s Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good, said the presence of the UK variant in Massachusetts makes the ongoing vaccination effort all the more urgent.
“Everything that I’ve read about the UK variant says that it is more contagious than the variant we have been dealing with up until now,” Landrigan said.
“It’s going to spread faster than the old variant, and because it spreads faster, over the next couple of months, it’s going to become the dominant strain of the virus,” Landrigan said. “It’s going to outcompete the old virus.”
The production and distribution of vaccine must increase in the wake of the variant, and efforts must be stepped up to administer doses, he said. People must also double down on public health guidance, including mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing.
The Worcester County cases include seven females: one under the age of 19, one woman in her 20s, three women in their 30s, one in her 40s, and another in her 50s.
Seven Worcester County males were also among the cases, including one under 19, a 16-year-old, a man in his 30s, two men in their 40s, one in his 50s and one in his 60s, according to the Department of Public Health.
Cases in Norfolk County included a woman in her 50s, a man in his 20s, and a man in his 50s, the state reported.
Two from Middlesex County — including a man in his 20s and a male under age 19 — were also reported.
Ten previous cases had been reported in Massachusetts since Jan. 17.
Of the 29 total cases, four have evidence of recent travel, the department said. It suggests that the majority of cases identified in Massachusetts are community-acquired.
The state said that two other variants of COVID-19 — one identified in Brazil, and the other in South Africa — have not caused any confirmed cases in Massachusetts.
It appears that the two vaccines now in use — produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — are effective against the UK variant, according to Landrigan and Samuel Scarpino, a Northeastern University epidemiologist.
Scarpino, who has criticized recent rollbacks in some of the state’s public health measures intended to help slow the spread of the virus, said the state needs to take new measures to protect against spread.
“The longer we allow COVID to spread essentially uncontrolled, the longer we risk either the B.1.1.7 variant or one of the others we’ve heard of . . . becoming established,” Scarpino said. “We don’t need to close everything down, but if we don’t do anything, we may be risking that again with B.1.1.7.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.