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South Africa COVID Variant Found In Massachusetts

BOSTON (CBS) — The coronavirus B.1.351 variant, known as the South Africa variant, has been found in Massachusetts, the state Department of Public Health announced Tuesday evening.

The case is a Middlesex County woman in her 20s who has not traveled.

"The B.1.351 variant is known to spread easily. 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," the health department said.

There is growing concern that the South Africa variant is more contagious than previous strains. Even for people who have already survived coronavirus. Dr. Mark Siedner, an infectious disease clinician and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital says, "there is increasing data that people in South Africa, who were infected previously, are reinfected with this strain, so we do need to take this extremely seriously."

Another concern is that the current vaccines are less effective against the South Africa variant, but Dr. Siedner says vaccines will still protect people from serious complications. "Even with these new variants, they seem to stop people from getting hospitalized, or extremely ill," he said.

As the virus mutates, Dr. Siedner says our approach will adapt as well. That could mean new vaccines down the road, or booster shots. That said, he's confident about one thing right now. "We know these vaccines work. We know they're safe, they're effective," he said.

Even as cases are trending downward in Massachusetts, Dr. Siedner says we must remain vigilant to prevent another spike with a more contagious strain. He suggests doubling down on hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing. "The good news is, it's likely that those measures are going to work no matter what kind of variant is in our community," he said.

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