Officials: 1st case of new COVID variant found in Michigan

Virus variant believed to be more contagious identified in 16 states so far

Michigan's first case of the COVID-19 variant that is thought to be more contagious has been reported Saturday.

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan officials have identified the state’s first case of a new coronavirus variant, believed to be more contagious, in an infected individual living in Washtenaw County.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced Saturday, Jan. 16 that an adult female living in Washtenaw County has contracted a new COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.1.7. Officials say she recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where the variant was first identified and has recently sent part of that country into a strict lockdown to help curb virus spread.

According to authorities, two additional positive COVID cases have been identified among close contacts with the Washtenaw County woman, but it is unclear if those two individuals are also infected with the virus variant.

The variant, which has been officially identified in other countries around the world, made its way to the United States at the end of 2020 and was first identified in California. Officials say the variant has now been identified in at least 16 other states as of Jan. 16.

Michigan officials say the new variant is thought to be more contagious, but “there has been no indication that it affects the clinical outcomes or disease severity compared to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been circulating across the United States for months,” according to a press release issued Jan. 16.

However, officials say the new variant -- should it circulate widely in Michigan -- could lead to a higher rate of virus transmission, which could in turn increase the number of people who “need to be hospitalized or who lose their lives to COVID-19.”

EXPLAINER: Scientists trying to understand new virus variant

“The discovery of this variant in Michigan is concerning, but not unexpected,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic as quickly as possible. We continue to urge Michiganders to follow a research-based approach by wearing their masks properly, socially distancing, avoiding crowds, washing their hands often, and making a plan to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is their turn.”

The case of the virus variant announced Saturday is the only known case of the variant in Michigan, but officials say it is likely that there are more cases that have not yet been identified.

Jan. 7, 2021: New, mutated variant of COVID-19 ‘very likely already here’ in Michigan, top health official says

Health officials urge residents to continue following mitigation protocols to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, including frequent hand washing, good hygiene, social distancing and avoiding crowds and gatherings.

More: Coronavirus news

Are new COVID-19 restrictions in store for Michigan due to new variant of virus, metrics concerns?

With rising concerns about Michigan’s COVID-19 metrics and a new variant of the virus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was asked if she anticipates new restrictions on activity in the state.

During Wednesday’s (Jan. 6) briefing, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the state’s case rate has started to plateau after 46 days of decline. She also revealed a much higher positivity rate -- 9.6%.

In addition to some concerning trends in the metrics, Whitmer and Khaldun both spoke about a new variant of COVID-19, which could be even easier to spread.

Whitmer was asked if, due to those concerns, the state will see increased restrictions beyond the current MDHHS order.

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