COVID-19 variant seen in Hampshire County

Staff Writer
Published: 2/15/2021 6:56:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Hampshire County man in his 20s is one of 29 people in the state known to have had a case of the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant since mid-January.

The state Department of Public Health said it could not say what town it was detected in, and that it can provide county level data only “for medical privacy reasons,” Ann Scales, a DPH spokesperson, said in an email on Tuesday. 

First detected in the U.K., the virus mutation is more easily spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first case of the B.1.1.7 variant in the state was detected Jan. 17, according to the DPH. “Four of those 29 cases have evidence of recent travel, suggesting that the majority of cases identified in Massachusetts are community-acquired,” the DPH announced Sunday.

Since Jan. 17, one case of the variant has been identified in Hampshire County, 17 cases in Worcester County, six in Norfolk County, two in Plymouth and in Middlesex counties, and one in Suffolk County, according to the DPH.

Additional testing needs to be done to see if a positive COVID test is a variant. Northampton Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary said last week that the state DPH is randomly selecting specimens to test for the new variant.

Scales said that “fewer than 1% of cases statewide are currently being sequenced. The State Public health Laboratory is sequencing 100 cases per week, double the number prior to January 1.” She added that with help of the Broad Institute, the state plans to sequence 900 cases by March. 

“Surveillance laboratory testing for variants has been ongoing at the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory as well as in collaboration with clinical diagnostic laboratories and academic partners, including the CDC,” DPH spokesman Omar Cabrera said in an email last week. “Surveillance consists of genomic sequencing on portions of COVID-19 positive specimens.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

This story has been updated.

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