Michigan confirms first case of South African COVID variant in Jackson County

Variant first detected in South Africa in October; case in Michigan identified in a child

South African COVID variant detected in Michigan
South African COVID variant detected in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that the first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.351 has been identified in a child in Jackson County.

The health department did not say how the boy was infected but a case investigation is underway to determine close contacts and if there are additional cases associated.

This new variant was originally detected in South Africa in October 2020 and shares some mutations with the B117 variant. The first case of the B117 variant -- originally detected in the United Kingdom -- was identified in Washtenaw County.

READ: Everything we know about virus variants in Michigan, US

Officials said B.1.351 is believed to be more contagious but there is 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.”

However, a higher rate of transmission could increase the number of people who need to be hospitalized or lose their lives to COVID-19 should the new variant begin circulating widely in Michigan. Officials said as of Monday, the variant has been identified in 20 other states and jurisdictions.

This case in Michigan is the only one identified at this time. It was first reported in the U.S. on Jan. 28 when it was identified in two people in South Carolina.

“We are concerned about the discovery of another variant in Michigan, although it was not unexpected,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “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. We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

Based on available evidence, current tests can identify COVID-19 in these cases. The available COVID-19 vaccines also work against this new variant.

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.