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First case of South African coronavirus variant found in Mass.

A nurse prepared the COVID-19 vaccine while working at a CVS in East Boston.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Massachusetts has identified its first case of the coronavirus variant that originated in South Africa, the Department of Public Health announced Tuesday evening.

The B.1.351 variant of the virus was detected in a woman in her 20s living in Middlesex County who has no reported travel, officials said.

“The B.1.351 variant is known to spread easily,” the statement said. “The Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory is working in collaboration with many healthcare and academic partners to quickly identify variants of concern by sequencing a subset of positive samples.”

Officials said the presence of the variant was confirmed through genetic sequencing by the Broad Institute on behalf of DPH.


The variant was originally identified in South Africa in October and reached the U.S. in January, according to the CDC.

Officials reported that there are 34 cases of the United Kingdom variant (B.1.1.7) in Massachusetts and no cases of the P.1 variant originally found in Brazil.

“These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19,” according to information on the CDC’s website. “An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.”

State health officials urged residents to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing to slow the virus’s spread.

“The best defense against a rapid rise in cases from variants of concern is to prevent the spread of COVID,” the statement said.

Nick Stoico can be reached at Follow him @NickStoico.