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MDHHS: First case of new COVID-19 variant identified in Michigan

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A new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been identified in Michigan, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on Saturday.

The new variant, B.1.1.7, was identified in an adult woman from Washtenaw County. She had recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where the variant was first identified. MDHHS says the woman’s close contacts have been notified and are in quarantine. Two of those contacts have tested positive for COVID-19, though it’s unclear if they have the B.1.1.7 variant.

The new strain is believed to be more contagious than others, though so far there’s no indication that it leads to worse outcomes. “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,” MDHHS said in a statement.

The state’s chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, called the news “concerning, but not unexpected.” Traditional COVID-19 protection measures such as social distancing and wearing a mask are believed to protect against this new strain, and available COVID-19 vaccines appear to protect against it.

The MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories “identified the variant in this individual’s sample and will continue to conduct whole genome sequencing to quickly identify any variants of interest, including B.1.1.7.,” according to the state. The variant has been identified in at least 16 other states and jurisdictions in the U.S.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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