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Washtenaw County urges testing after COVID-19 variant exposure

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Washtenaw County health officials are urging residents to get tested for COVID-19 after tracing of exposures of the highly spreadable variant back to retail stores in Ann Arbor.

Five cases of the coronavirus variant, B.1.1.7., have been identified and additional tracing continues for other possible positive cases , county health officials said.

"Brief, public exposures are not normally a COVID-19 exposure concern but the B.1.1.7. variant is more easily transmitted and could lead to more cases, hospitalizations and deaths," the department said in a release Saturday.

Dr. Barry Feldman, left, uses a nasal swab to test Jessica Barnett, of Farmington Hills, for COVID-19 at drive up clinic in Farmington Hills Dec. 21, 2020.

As a precaution, residents should immediately get tested if they visited Meijer on Saline Road on Jan. 17 between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. or Briarwood Mall, located at 100 Briarwood Circle, from 1-2 p.m., where the new variant was circulating.

“The possibility of additional spread of the variant is a concern,” said Dr. Juan Luis Marquez, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department, in the statement. “At this point and with the guidance of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, we are encouraging extra precautions.

"Seek testing if you have symptoms, have recently been exposed to COVID-19, or have recently traveled to a place where the new variant is circulating. And everyone should make sure they are using all COVID-19 precautions consistently. This includes face masks, social distancing, hand cleaning, avoiding crowds or gatherings, and following isolation and quarantine guidance.”

MDHHS, in a separate release, also detected a case of the B.1.1.7 variant in a Wayne County resident.

The first reported case of the variant in Michigan was identified on Jan. 16 in a woman part of the University of Michigan community. She recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where the variant originated, according to the statement by the department. The person's close contacts have been informed and are in quarantine.

However, it’s not clear if all cases are connected to that first case, the department said.

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.

Washtenaw County Health Department, MDHHS and UM are working closely to implement additional containment strategies to slow the spread of the variant.

“We have been warning people for weeks that this variant would likely be identified in the State of Michigan,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, in the release. “Now is the time for people to take additional precautions and limit any potential exposures. Wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid gatherings and make an appointment for a vaccine when it’s your turn. We all have a role to play in ending this pandemic.”

Residents can receive free testing Sunday from 12-5 p.m. at Pioneer High School, located at 601 W. Stadium Blvd. in Ann Arbor. Pre-registration is available but not required.

Ongoing testing options are listed at www.washtenaw.org/covid19test or by using the statewide test locator.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_