(Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie) Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A Connecticut resident has tested positive for the highly-infectious COVID-19 strain often called the “South African variant,” public health officials announced in a Monday press release marking the first known case in the state. 

The patient, a Fairfield County resident between 60 and 70 years old, is recovering in a New York hospital and had not recently traveled out of the area, according to the statement. 

The COVID-19 variant, called B.1.351, is thought to spread more easily than the standard strain of the virus. There is not evidence to suggest the variant causes more severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but the currently-available vaccines may be less effective against it.

The appearance of the strain comes more than a month after the first confirmed cases of another highly-infectious mutation, commonly called the “U.K. variant.” There are now 42 confirmed cases of that strain in Connecticut, according to Monday’s statement from the Public Health Department.

In a press release, Gov. Ned Lamont said the new variant reinforced the need to take precautions against the virus. 

“The virus does not recognize state boundaries, and it certainly does not recognize international borders, which means the responsibility is on all of us to do what we can on a personal basis to mitigate the spread,” Lamont said. 

Public health officials recommend observing the same mitigation guidelines for slowing all strains of the coronavirus, including mask-wearing and social distancing. Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said residents should adhere to new CDC guidelines, which call for wearing two masks in some cases. 

“With the variants currently circulating in the United States and in Connecticut, it is more important than ever to prevent transmission of the virus. We do that by ensuring that masks are being worn correctly and are as effective as possible. Masks should always cover the nose and mouth completely. In some instances, a cloth mask along with a surgical mask may be the best approach according to the CDC, in order to prevent droplets from escaping or entering through gaps in masks,” Gifford said. 

Despite the appearance of the new strain, infection rates in Connecticut held under 3% through the weekend at 2.98%. The number of patients hospitalized for the virus in state hospitals continued to decline. Hospitalizations dropped by 56 patients over the weekend to 618. A month earlier, on Jan. 15, there had been 1,098 COVID patients in Connecticut hospitals. Sixty-six people died from the virus since Friday, bringing the state total to 7,447.