In late January 2021, a clinical laboratory notified the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) that the SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern B.1.351 had been identified in a specimen collected from a Maryland resident with COVID-19 (1). The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.351 lineage was first identified in South Africa (2) and might be neutralized less effectively by antibodies produced after vaccination or natural infection with other strains (3–6). To limit SARS-CoV-2 chains of transmission associated with this index patient, MDH used contact tracing to identify the source of infection and any linked infections among other persons. The investigation identified two linked clusters of SARS-CoV-2 infection that included 17 patients. Three additional specimens from these clusters were sequenced; all three had the B.1.351 variant and all sequences were closely related to the sequence from the index patient’s specimen. Among the 17 patients identified, none reported recent international travel or contact with international travelers. Two patients, including the index patient, had received the first of a 2-dose COVID-19 vaccination series in the 2 weeks before their likely exposure; one additional patient had a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection 5 months before exposure. Two patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, and one died. These first identified linked clusters of B.1.351 infections in the United States with no apparent link to international travel highlight the importance of expanding the scope and volume of genetic surveillance programs to identify variants, completing contact investigations for SARS-CoV-2 infections, and using universal prevention strategies, including vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, to control the spread of variants of concern.
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