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State responsible for variant COVID-19 testing

A new variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom has made its way to Michigan. The B.1.1.7 strain is active in Washtenaw County and has caused the Michigan Wolverine Athletic Department to halt operations for two weeks.

The question is how prevalent is the strain throughout the rest of the state. That answer is far from clear. The nasal PCR test can diagnose COVID-19 but it is incapable of telling what strain is present. That diagnostic is only done downstate. In order for variant testing to take place, excess samples must be available, says Cathryn Beer from the Western UP Health Department.

If we do have samples that are still viable after we’ve run a swab, we can send those down there and they can run that variant test on them.

The new variant presents with the same symptoms, so it is not easily diagnosable except through lab results. The main difference is transmissibility.

Beer says it is unclear if the COVID variant is similar to a normal flu year. Influenza typically has an A and B strain each season. A affects the elderly early in the season from Halloween through the holidays, with B cropping up around Christmas and being more infectious for younger demographics.

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