Maryland health official urging residents to be vigilant after person dies of Brazil COVID variant

There are new concerns Thursday over the COVID-19 Brazil variant that is linked to the death of a Maryland resident. The questions are only just starting – how widespread it and will vaccines give protection?

One of Maryland's top health department officials tells FOX 5 the Brazil variant is a "wildcard" and is urging residents to double down on personal safety until they can figure out how widespread it is.

READ MORE: Maryland resident dies after contracting Brazil COVID-19 variant: health officials

Dr. Clifford Mitchell says the state is aggressively trying to determine that answer.

"What we can tell you is having identified this, along with both the UK variant and the South African variant, it is possible that there is more of this circulating in the population and we are watching closely, doing close contact tracing and other kinds of work," said Dr. Mitchell. 

State officials haven’t identified the Maryland resident who died, but confirm that the person was infected with the new P.1 variant, which is commonly known as the "Brazil variant." 

Governor Larry Hogan's Office says the case involves a resident over age 65 from the National Capital Region who died after international travel.

READ MORE: How many COVID-19 variants are there?

This news comes as Maryland schools are announcing reopening plans. 

At the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Dr. Anthony Fauci cautions: schools themselves are not super-spreaders, but rather mimic the virus rates of the places they’re located.

"When you talk about the dangers of teachers getting infected – we know that when you talk about the danger of the school setting, it's really about what's going on in the community, which dictates the risk of infection to anyone including teachers," said Dr. Fauci. 

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Vaccine manufacturers are studying how variants like P.1 affect vaccine immunity.

This news comes as COVID-19 cases continue to fall across the D.C. region, with dropping case positivity rates and numbers not seen since November.

Dr. Mitchell says the presence of the variants is a reminder for people to keep wearing masks.