6 total cases of COVID variant reported in Michigan so far

Health officials warn of potential virus exposure sites in Washtenaw County

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2020 file photo, a doctor takes a nasal swab sample to test for COVID-19 at the Cocodrilos Sports Park in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File) (Matias Delacroix, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

YPSILANTI, Mich. – A total of six cases of a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus have been identified in Michigan so far, according to health officials.

The Washtenaw County Health Department announced Saturday, Jan. 23 that a total of five cases of the virus variant, also known as B117, have been identified in county residents.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) also identified one case of the virus variant in a Wayne County man.

The Washtenaw County Health Department is warning residents of potential exposure sites, where patrons may have came into contact with the virus variant.

Individuals who visited the following locations on Sunday, Jan. 17 are encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 immediately:

Michigan’s first known case of the new strain, believed to be highly contagious and potentially more deadly, was found in a Washtenaw County woman on Jan. 16. Two additional cases were identified in two more Washtenaw County residents on Jan. 21. The three infected individuals were reportedly in close contact with one another, but officials say it is unclear if any of the six cases are tied to the first case.

“The possibility of additional spread of the variant is a concern,” says Juan Luis Marquez, MD, MPH, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department. “At this point and with the guidance of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, we are encouraging extra precautions. Seek testing if you have symptoms, have recently been exposed to COVID-19, or have recently traveled to a place where the new variant is circulating. And everyone should make sure they are using all COVID-19 precautions consistently. This includes face masks, social distancing, hand cleaning, avoiding crowds or gatherings, and following isolation and quarantine guidance.”

More: Michigan health officials concerned over COVID variants

The B117 variant was first identified in the U.K. at the end of 2020 and sent part of that country into a strict lockdown to help curb virus spread. The strain was first identified in the U.S. at the end of December, first in Colorado and then California. The virus variant has reportedly made its way to at least 20 states in the country so far.

Michigan officials believed it was likely that the COVID variant had already made its way into the state prior to Jan. 16.

“We have been warning people for weeks that this variant would likely be identified in the State of Michigan,” says Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “We want everyone to understand that this variant is much more easily transmitted, and there is increased risk of rapid spread. Now is the time for people to take additional precautions and limit any potential exposures. Wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid gatherings, and make an appointment for a vaccine when it’s your turn. We all have a role to play in ending this pandemic.”

Officials say it is likely that more than six cases of the B117 strain exist in Michigan that have not yet been discovered.

To help prevent the spread of the virus, individuals are encouraged to continue practicing mitigation measures including good hygiene and frequent hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding crowds and gatherings.

Related: UK chief scientist says new virus variant may be more deadly