BOSTON (WPRI) — Massachusetts has announced its first identified case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant initially discovered in the United Kingdom.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) said a Boston woman in her 20s developed symptoms in early January and tested positive for COVID-19. She had traveled to the United Kingdom and became ill the day after she returned.
A genetic sample was sent to an out-of-state laboratory as part of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) surveillance protocol to identify COVID-19 variants.
The state laboratory was notified of results on Saturday night.
Massachusetts DPH says the individual was interviewed by contact tracers at the time the initial positive result was received, and close contacts were identified, but is being re-interviewed by public health officials now that the variant has been identified as the cause of illness.
While on Face the Nation Sunday night, former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb says based on experience in other countries, the new variant could potentially double cases in the United States every week.
“So, in about five weeks, this is going to start to take over,” Gottlieb said. “The only backstop against this new variant is the fact that we will have a lot of infection by then, so there will be a lot of immunity in the population, and we will be vaccinating more people. But this really changes the equation.”
While the CDC says there is no evidence the variant itself cases more severe illness or increased risk of death, the agency says an increase in cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations and potentially more deaths.
As of Friday, the CDC had reported 88 cases of the variant from 14 states in the United States. Rhode Island has not yet identified any cases of the variant.
To date, the CDC reports three variants of COVID-19, originating from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, respectively.
The CDC says viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. While new variants emerge and disappear, others emerge and persist.
“These are strains that are much more contagious than the classic COVID-19 we have been fighting for the last 11 months, or 12 months,” CBS News Medical Contributor Dr. David Agus said Monday morning.
Massachusetts DPH says the public health risk reduction measures remain the same, including mask wearing while in public, maintaining six feet of distance, staying home when sick and getting tested if you have symptoms or are identified as a close contact.