Michigan identifies its first case of COVID-19 variant

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services identified the state's first case of the new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7., on Saturday in an adult female living in Washtenaw County.

The woman recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where the variant originated, according to an announcement from the department. The person's close contacts have been informed and are in quarantine.

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, the health department said in a press release.

"The discovery of this variant in Michigan is concerning, but not unexpected,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive. “We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic as quickly as possible."

MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun speaks during a press conference in Lansing, Wednesday, January 13, 2020.

On Friday, a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant's higher rate of transmission would lead to "more cases, increasing the number of persons overall who need clinical care, exacerbating the burden on an already strained health care system and resulting in more deaths."

The variant is estimated to have emerged in September, and the United Kingdom first reported it on Dec. 14 — about nine months after Michigan disclosed its first cases of COVID-19.

As of Saturday, the variant has been identified in at least 16 other states and jurisdictions in the U.S., according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. However, the woman in Washtenaw County is the only known case in Michigan at this time, the department said, adding that based on available evidence, current tests and vaccines for COVID-19 also work against this new variant.

"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," Khaldun said.

As of Saturday, Michigan has reported 535,534 coronavirus cases, 13,804 deaths linked to the virus and 442,408 recoveries.

The infection rates have declined since surging in late November. And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called for all schools to begin offering in-person instruction by March 1. Her administration has also said it plans to allow indoor dining at restaurants and bars to resume on Feb. 1. Indoor dining has been suspended since Nov. 18.