A man in his 20s from Worcester County tested positive Tuesday for the new, apparently more contagious coronavirus variant, public health officials said. The variant was first detected in the United Kingdom, and experts have warned that it could soon become widespread in the U.S.
Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said the case of the B.1.1.7 variant was discovered by the state Public Health Laboratory, but she did not offer further details. Bharel disclosed the new case at Wednesday's meeting of the Public Health Council.
The first case of the new strain of the coronavirus was detected over the weekend in a female resident of Boston in her 20s who had visited the United Kingdom. Health officials did not indicate whether the second person confirmed to have the variant had traveled recently.
Dr. Shira Doron, hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said a second case could signal that the variant is becoming more widespread in Massachusetts. To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, Doron emphasized the importance of mask-wearing and physical distancing.
"I think a lot of the infections that happen, for the most part, are breakdowns of the mitigation measures," Doron said, "of people getting within six feet, not that they are at six feet and still get it."
Cases of the new variant have also been identified in other Northeast states, including Connecticut and New York. Public health officials have stressed the need to remain vigilant about precautions and to get tested and stay home if you experience symptoms.
"The public health measures for these new variants remain the same," Bharel said.
Bharel said that as of Monday 746,250 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been allocated to Massachusetts and 337,333 doses have been administered. She said the vaccine, which is believed to be effective on the new strain of the coronavirus, is the "light at the end of the tunnel" of the pandemic.
With President-elect Joe Biden taking the office on Wednesday and promising not to hold back on the delivery of any doses to states, Bharel said Massachusetts does not currently delay the distribution of second doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to health care facilities as they come in, and will watch to see how vaccine deliveries might change.
The council on Wednesday approved an amendment to emergency regulations governing the administration of vaccines that would make pharmacy students and students studying to become physician assistants eligible to be trained to administer COVID-19 and other vaccines.
The change expands the emergency pool of vaccine administrators beyond medical and nursing students if the commissioner determines that there are or will be insufficient health care professionals available for timely vaccine administration.
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