Coronavirus updates: Maryland reports case of coronavirus variant that first emerged

“State health officials are closely monitoring the B. 1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the state,” Hogan said in a statement. “We strongly encourage Marylanders to practice extra caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this variant. Please continue to practice standard public health and safety measures, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”

Here are some significant developments:

  • The United States is doing so little of the genetic sequencing needed to detect new variants of the coronavirus — like the ones first identified in Great Britain and South Africa — that such mutations are probably proliferating quickly, undetected, experts said.
  • Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) has tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after receiving a second vaccine shot, according to his office.
  • Masks must be worn at train and subway stations, bus terminals and airports nationwide, as well as on planes, trains and other types of public transportation in the United States, according to a far-reaching federal public health order issued late Friday.
  • A freezer malfunctioned at Seattle’s Swedish Health Services, sending staff scrambling to administer hundreds of doses of the coronavirus vaccine that were set to expire early in the morning. As the deadline approached, staff and volunteers ran out to the road to give the shots.

The variant doesn’t appear to cause more severe illness or increase the likelihood of death, but health experts say it’s more transmissible and that vaccines may be less effective against it. After appearing in more than two dozen countries, the first U.S. cases were reported in South Carolina on Jan. 28.

Confirmation of the variant in a second state is certain to raise alarms among health officials, who warned this week that the spread of the South African version and others could threaten progress against the pandemic.

Hogan said the case in Maryland involved an adult living in the Baltimore region. The person didn’t have a recent history of international travel, “making community transmission likely,” read a statement from the governor’s office. “Comprehensive contact tracing efforts are underway to ensure that potential contacts are quickly identified, quarantined, and tested.”

The report from Maryland came a day after Biden administration officials said the United States will need to move faster to stay ahead of the rapidly proliferating virus variants. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, called the situation a “wake-up call.”

“It is an incentive to do what we’ve been saying all along: to vaccinate as many people as we can, as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci told reporters in a White House briefing Friday.

More than 430 cases of the three variants have been identified in at least 31 states, according to federal data. The most prevalent appears to be the B.1.1.7 variant, which spiked in the United Kingdom late last year and prompted a new wave of pandemic restrictions. Experts say it could be 50 percent more transmissible than the more common coronavirus strain, and will likely account for a majority of cases in the United States in the coming months.

To help control the spread, the Biden administration on Friday issued a sweeping order requiring masks on the nation’s public transportation systems. People are ordered to wear masks “while boarding, disembarking, and traveling on any conveyance into or within the United States,” as well as “at any transportation hub that provides transportation within the United States,” the order from the Centers for Disease Control said. The list of covered spaces includes trains and subway stations, bus terminals and airports, and planes.

West Virginia this week became the first state in the country to complete coronavirus vaccinations at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, the governor said Friday, notching an important victory in the fight against the pandemic.

Gov. Jim Justice (R) said state health officials had offered second vaccination doses at all of the state’s 214 long-term care facilities, inoculating many of the people most vulnerable to fatal infections.

So far, 17,763 residents and 19,836 staff members have chosen to be vaccinated, according to state data. Justice didn’t say how many had declined the vaccine, but he told reporters Friday that the percentage who took it was “overwhelming.”

“It’s great work,” said Justice. “A lot of people are really pulling the rope here.”

The West Virginia vaccinations offer a glimmer of hope as other states struggle to ramp up their mass immunization campaigns and the emergence of new, highly transmissible virus variants — some of them more resistant to vaccines than others — increase the urgency for getting shots into arms.

The coronavirus has exacted a merciless toll on nursing home residents and staff. Across the United States, more than 150,000 residents…

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