2 more cases of new COVID variant identified in Washtenaw County, health officials say

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

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LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Washtenaw County Health Department announced on Thursday that two new cases of the COVID variant have been identified.

Officials said the cases were identified in two women living in the county and were in close contact with the first person in the state to be diagnosed with the variant, known as B.1.1.7. Officials said that person tested positive after traveling to the United Kingdom where the variant originated.

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A total of seven cases are linked to the original case -- including the two new variant diagnoses -- but it is unknown if the other five people are infected with the variant. All of the eight people were instructed to isolate.

According to a press release issued Thursday, the B.1.1.7 variant is believed to be more contagious but there has been no indication if “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.”

“Because this variant is more contagious, we have been expecting more B.1.1.7 cases following Michigan’s first case being identified on Saturday,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive. “Michiganders have followed the science and worked hard to slow the spread of COVID-19, resulting in dramatic improvements in our case numbers, deaths, hospitalizations and positivity rates. Now we need to redouble our efforts by continuing to wear masks properly, socially distance, avoid crowds, washing hand frequently, and make plans to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is our turn.”

READ: First case of COVID variant detected in Michigan: What to know

Officials said based on available evidence, current tests and vaccines for COVID-19 also work against this new variant. Protective actions that prevent the spread of COVID-19 will also prevent the spread of the new variant, B.1.1.7. Michiganders should:

  • Get vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • Wear a mask around others.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Ventilate indoor spaces.

Health officials said the higher rate of transmission could increase “the number of people who need to be hospitalized or who lose their lives to COVID-19 should the new variant begin circulating widely in Michigan. it is possible that there are more B.1.1.7 cases in Michigan that have not been identified.”

“We are watching this situation as closely as possible,” says Dr. Juan Luis Marquez, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department. “And we ask everyone to continue to do everything they can to prevent transmission – mask, distance, avoid crowds or gatherings, clean your hands frequently, and follow isolation or quarantine guidance carefully.”


About the Author:

DeJanay Booth joined WDIV as a web producer in July 2020. She previously worked as a news reporter in New Mexico before moving back to Michigan.