MDHHS identifies first Michigan case of new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7. in Washtenaw County

The first Michigan case of new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7. was identified in an adult female living in Washtenaw County by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Bureau of Laboratories today. The person recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where this variant originated. Close contacts of this individual have been identified and are in quarantine. At this time two new cases have been identified from close contacts with the person, but it is not known if they are infected with the variant.

B.1.1.7. is believed 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.

However, a 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. To date, the virus has been identified in at least 16 other states and jurisdictions in the U.S. This is the only known case in Michigan at this time, however it is possible that there are more that have not been identified.

“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.”

“This doesn’t change what we need to do. But preventing transmission at every opportunity is now even more important because this variant appears to be more contagious and may impact more people faster than the current strain,” says Juan Luis Marquez, MD, MPH, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department.

The B117 variant appears to be more contagious but not necessarily more serious than the primary strain of COVID-19. Based on current evidence, the vaccine will be effective against this variant. While presence of this variant is detected with current testing methods, additional sequencing is needed to distinguish it from other more common COVID-19 variants circulating in the community.

Faster spread of illness is a serious concern because the number of people sickened increases so more may become seriously ill or die. Prevent transmission whenever possible. Use or increase use of effective prevention strategies.

  • Wear a face mask around others
  • Keep at least 6 feet apart from others
  • Clean hands frequently
  • Avoid crowded areas or gatherings
  • Ventilate indoor spaces if around others
  • Seek testing if ill, exposed, or after travel
  • Follow isolation or quarantine guidance if ill, exposed, or waiting on test results
  • Get vaccinated when vaccine becomes available to you

Washtenaw County Health Department continues to vaccinate individuals who live or work in the county as quickly as possible, according to MHDDS guidance, and in coordination with our local health systems and providers. Vaccination updates are available at www.washtenaw.org/covid19vaccine or by calling 734-544-6700. Please reserve phone and email capacity for those who cannot easily check the website.

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: New COVID-19 Variants

MDHHS News Release 1-16-21

Washtenaw County Health Department
The Washtenaw County Health Department promotes health and works to prevent disease and injury in our community, including responding to health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. Our mission is to assure, in partnership with the community, the conditions necessary for people to live healthy lives through prevention and protection programs. Visit us at washtenaw.org/health or call 734-544-6700.

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