BOSTON (AP) — A variant of the coronavirus first identified in Brazil has been found in Massachusetts for the first time, state public health officials said Tuesday.
The person with the variant is described only as a woman in her 30s who lives in Barnstable County and tested positive in late February, the state Department of Public Health said in an emailed statement.
The state was notified of her test results from genetic sequencing conducted through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national surveillance system.
No other information, including whether the woman recently traveled, was available.
The state has also found 213 cases of the U.K. variant and six cases of the South African variant. Health officials have expressed concern that these variants may spread more easily.
The best way to stop their spread is to wear a mask, maintain social distancing, avoid groups, stay home when sick, and get tested if showing symptoms, the health department said.
TUITION FREEZE PROPOSAL
University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan said Tuesday he would like to see the five-campus system freeze tuition for the second year in a row given the financial stresses students and their families have experienced because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To lessen the financial burden on our students and their families, many of whom have suffered from job losses, business closures and other impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, I intend to recommend to the UMass Board of Trustees that we freeze tuition for in-state undergraduate students for the second consecutive year,” Meehan said during a state of the university address.
“This is made possible by the support of the federal legislative delegation, which recently passed the American Rescue Plan and our partners in both the state legislature and Governor Baker’s administration,” he added.
UMass has about 75,000 students across four undergraduate campuses and a medical school.
Trustees Chair Robert Manning in a statement said the board shares Meehan's concerns.
Meehan also said the university is working toward “near normal operations” in the fall with most students returning to in-person classes and employees returning to work.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by about 1,000 on Tuesday, while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 16.
The new numbers push the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 16,355 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 570,000.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were more than 600 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 160 in intensive care units.
The average age of those hospitalized was 64. There were an estimated 25,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 8,773.
More than 2.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 1.6 million first doses and 883,000 second doses.
About 946,000 people have been fully immunized.
STATE POLICE VACCINATIONS
About 30% of Massachusetts State Police employees have not received a COVID-19 vaccination even though the department has offered shots at its own clinics, according to state data.
As of Friday, 2,002 of 2,847 eligible State Police employees, including civilians, had received at least one dose at one of the department clinics in Framingham, Plymouth, or Chicopee, according to data released in response to a Boston Globe request.
Some who have not been vaccinated at a department clinic may have received a vaccine elsewhere or may have declined because of medical conditions, although the exact numbers are unclear, department spokesperson David Procopio said.
The union that represents troopers and sergeants said it has not taken a position on vaccines.
The only guidance the union has given its 1,900 members was to consult with their personal physicians, said Nancy Sterling, a spokesperson the State Police Association of Massachusetts.
It's unclear if there is vaccine hesitancy.
“We don’t know if there is any hesitancy. There certainly could be. It’s not something we’re asking about,” Sterling said.
Dr. David Hamer, an infectious disease expert at Boston University, said vaccinating state troopers is important because of their close encounters with the public.