Update, 7:50 p.m. Saturday: The first Michigan case of the highly contagious new Covid-19 variant has been confirmed in a Washtenaw County woman who recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where the virus originated.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Saturday those with close contacts with the woman have been identified and are in quarantine. At this time, two new Covid cases have been identified from close contacts with the woman, but it's unknown if the variant infected them.
The strain is believed to be more contagious, but there's no indication that it is more severe than the current Covid virus.
"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," the state said in a media release. "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. “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.”
Original article, earlier Saturday:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning Friday that a highly transmissible Covid-19 variant will become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March, leading to what could be a crush of hospitalizations and deaths.
According to the New York Times, 70 cases of the strain first seen in the U.K. have thus far been reported in 13 states. But just like at the onset of the pandemic, federal health officials warn the numbers are likley far higher because not enough testing has been conducted to know how widely it has spread.
There are no known cases of the variant in Michigan, the state health department said in an email Friday night, but that it is "quite possible" there will be.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin provided the following response when asked how the state has been screening for the new variant:
"We have been performing whole genome sequencing for SARS-CoV-2 since March 2020 and have sequenced over 5,000 samples since then. All samples that are sequenced have been monitored for any variants of interest that we may see within the state. As of mid-December when we became aware of the B1.1.7 variant, we have been screening samples as they come off the sequencer prior to any further analyses."
Michigan has "among the highest numbers of COIVD sequencing performed by public health in the U.S." and last week sequenced over 500 samples, a spokesman for the health department said Saturday. The department sequences positive specimens tested at the state lab and gets additional positive specimens from clinical and commercial labs around the state.
The Times reports that state and local public health labs plan to ramp up sequencing over the next three weeks to a target 6,000 samples per week.
The vaccine is expected to work against the mutation, but Michigan's innoculation campaign is projected to take up to two years if it progresses at its current rate.