ANN ARBOR – The Washtenaw County Health Department announced on Friday that a total of 23 cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 have been identified to date in Washtenaw County, and all of the cases share a common link: they are associated with the University of Michigan community.
Washtenaw County’s first case of the variant was identified on Jan. 16 when a female student athlete at U-M tested positive for the strain after traveling to the UK. The school experienced a localized outbreak of the variant, but not all subsequent cases have been connected to the initial case.
At the recommendation of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Washtenaw County Health Department, all athletics were put on hold for two weeks and all students were asked to stay home, respectively, to curb the spread of the virus on campus.
University officials announced this week that U-M cases currently account for one-third of all coronavirus cases in Washtenaw County.
Since the variant was identified in the area, the Health Department and local partners have been testing residents at no cost. All positive COVID-19 tests are being sequenced for the variant. No cases of the new strain were detected among the positive test results from Jan. 24. Sequencing from other dates is still pending.
“We remain concerned about the identification of the B.1.1.7 variant locally,” Juan Luis Marquez, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department said in a statement. “We are working to contain the known cluster of cases, and we ask everyone to step up their use of effective prevention strategies and seek testing if needed.”
The next free drive-thru testing event will be held on Saturday at Pioneer High School from noon to 4 p.m. Pre-registration is encouraged but not required. Positive results from this testing event will be sequenced for the variant. Results could take up to 72 hours and additional sequencing could take more than a week longer.
The Washtenaw County Health Department recommends that all residents practice the following strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the B.1.1.7 variant:
- Wear a face mask around others. Cloth masks with multiple layers of fabric are still recommended.
- Keep at least 6 feet apart from others
- Clean hands frequently
- Avoid crowded areas or gatherings
- Ventilate indoor spaces if around others
- Seek testing if ill, exposed, or after travel
- Follow isolation or quarantine guidance if ill, exposed, or waiting on test results
- Get vaccinated when vaccine becomes available to you