New, mutated variant of COVID-19 ‘very likely already here’ in Michigan, top health official says

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mention new variant of COVID-19

Experts say a new variant of COVID-19 has emerged. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – The top health official in Michigan said a new, mutated variant of COVID-19 that might be easier to spread is “very likely” already in the state.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about the new variant of COVID-19 during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s Wednesday (Jan. 6) briefing.

READ: 6 takeaways from Gov. Whitmer’s COVID briefing

“We also know that we are seeing a new variant of the virus here in the United States, one that may be easier to spread than the current variant that we’ve been seeing,” Khaldun said.

“This virus has mutated, and new variants of this virus have been found in the UK and in a number of states in the country,” Whitmer said.

Concern about this mutated form of COVID-19 comes as Michigan reports less promising metrics than in weeks past.

After 46 days of decline, Michigan’s case rate has started to plateau, and is currently at 237 COVID-19 cases per million people statewide, Khaldun said.

MORE: Michigan moves to new phase of COVID vaccinations -- teachers, first responders, residents over 65

The state’s positivity rate rose from 8.2% on Dec.27 to 9.6%, as of Wednesday’s update, she said.

Between those numbers and the threat of an even more contagious strand of COVID-19, Whitmer and Khaldun urged Michiganders to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid gatherings.

“While we have not identified that new variant in the state of Michigan, it is very likely that it’s already here, or it will be here soon, so that is concerning,” Khaldun said.

On Wednesday, Michigan reported 4,326 new COVID-19 cases and 51 additional deaths, bringing the state totals to 508,736 confirmed cases and 12,918 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Here’s exactly what Whitmer said about the new variant:

Here’s exactly what Khaldun said about the new variant:

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Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.