South African coronavirus variant confirmed in Middlesex County

In this image from video, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, speaks during a White House briefing on the Biden administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (White House via AP)
In this image from video, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, speaks during a White House briefing on the Biden administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (White House via AP)
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BOSTON –  A Middlesex County woman in her 20s who reportedly has not traveled recently has been confirmed to be infected with the quick-spreading B.1.351 COVID-19 variant that was first identified in South Africa, the state’s first case of the mutated version of the coronavirus that has public health officials concerned.

The Department of Public Health said the Broad Institute conducted genetic sequencing and identified the variant, which is said to be more contagious and easier to spread. Massachusetts also has 34 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom and has not yet discovered any confirmed cases of the P.1. variant that originated in Brazil.

“The best defense against a rapid rise in cases from variants of concern is to prevent the spread of COVID,” DPH said in its press release Tuesday night.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief COVID-19 adviser, said the B.1.1.7 variant from the UK could be the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of March, and that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are “quite effective against the 1.1.7 lineage.”

But the two vaccines presently authorized for use are not as effective against the South African variant, “but hopefully we will get the virus under much better control by the time that there is any indication that that might become dominant,” Fauci said earlier this month.