Michigan health officials concerned over COVID variants

New cases closely related to first Michigan resident who tested positive for virus variant

ANN ARBOR – As of Jan. 22, 2021, Michigan has three confirmed cases of B.1.1.7 -- the new more contagious strain of coronavirus.

The three women are connected to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. One of the women had traveled to the United Kingdom in early January.

“We’ve now identified one outbreak, but there are possibly others,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “Other cases in the state that have not yet been identified and cases that are not associated with the outbreak we’ve found.”

B.1.1.7 -- the U.K. variant -- spreads more easily. Each person who gets it is significantly more likely to infect more people.

Scientists are also concerned about new variants detected in South Africa and Brazil, which have not been found in the United States yet.

At the White House. Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed the new variants highlight the need to get people vaccinated quickly.

“It is all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as you possibly can,” Fauci said. “As long as the virus is out there, replicating, viruses don’t mutate unless they replicate. And if you can suppress that by a very good vaccine campaign, then you can actually avoid this deleterious effect that you might get from the mutations.”

Fauci said while certain mutations might make vaccines less protective, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective enough that there would be a cushion effect that would still provide protection.

The new U.K. strain is more contagious because it is better at latching onto the receptors in our nose, lungs and digestive track, making it even more essential to follow precautions like wearing a mask.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday there is some evidence that the new strain, in addition to being easier to spread, might be more deadly. The research is considered preliminary, but it’s something experts are monitoring.

RELATED: Michigan health director Robert Gordon announces resignation

Robert Gordon, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, abruptly resigned on Friday.

Gordon and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun have been the faces of MDHHS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Gordon has often been present at Whitmer’s briefings and most recently participated in a virtual update Tuesday.

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