One of the more common variant strains of COVID-19 has been identified in Houghton County for the first time. The B.1.1.7 version, sometimes referred to as the United Kingdom variant, was initially identified overseas and has been in Michigan since February. All testing for newer strains of the virus is conducted downstate by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services laboratory. Facilities locally can identify COVID-19 and they typically send excess material they don’t need for the more specialized analysis.
While there are concerns that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible than traditional COVID, much of that theory relies on computer modeling. It has not yet been linked to increased deaths. Vaccinations are effective against the UK version of the disease. Eligibility has loosened this week to all adults 16 years and older.
The full press release is below.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) notified the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) that the MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories identified the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 in five Houghton County cases.
The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 variant is thought to have emerged in the United Kingdom and has since been detected in many countries and states. Compared to the original virus, the B.1.1.7 variant is approximately 50 percent more transmissible, leading to faster spread and potentially increasing the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
“When a variant is identified or suspected, additional measures take place, such as a strict 14-day quarantine,” said Kate Beer, Health Officer at WUPHD. “A new variant in our community is concerning since it can be related to higher transmission rates. Residents across the jurisdiction are reminded to continue practicing mitigation strategies including mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and getting a vaccine as soon as it is available to you. These actions help slow the spread of the virus.”
With the high transmission rate of the B.1.1.7 variant, vaccination is more important than ever. Vaccination is currently open to anyone 16 and older. Vaccinations can be scheduled with local providers by calling 2-1-1 or by visiting www.coppercountrystrong.com/vaccine.
For more information, visit www.wuphd.org or www.michigan.gov/coronavirus