Michigan officials ‘don’t want to have to go backwards’ due to spread of new COVID variant

17 cases of new variant confirmed in Washtenaw, Wayne counties

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LANSING, Mich. – Michigan officials said they hope the state won’t have to move backward in the reopening process due to the spread of the new COVID-19 variant, but they have to continue monitoring the numbers.

“This new, more easily transmitted virus is still very concerning,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “We do not want to have to go backwards to slow the great progress we’ve already made.”

READ: 8 takeaways from Gov. Whitmer’s update on COVID-19 in Michigan

As of Monday afternoon, Michigan officials had confirmed 17 cases of the new variant -- 13 in Washtenaw County and four in Wayne County.

The spread of the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus has already caused a two-week shutdown of the University of Michigan athletic department. State officials are hoping more restrictions aren’t necessary.

“We want to continue to reopen our economy and get back to a sense of normalcy,” Khaldun said. “This means that we all have to think differently and more aggressively about preventing the spread.”

MDHHS is trying to quickly identify new outbreaks involving this variant, she said. Officials are reaching out to contacts and making sure people who might have been infected quarantine immediately.

Michigan restaurants are set to resume indoor dining Feb. 1 for the first time since an MDHHS order went into effect in mid-November. The state hopes new restrictions, such as holding restaurants to 25% capacity and installing a 10 p.m. curfew, can mitigate the risk associated with allowing people from different households to remove their masks in an indoor setting.

“I think it’s important that we stay focused on where the numbers are before we take additional steps,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

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Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.