2 new cases of COVID-19 UK variant confirmed in Washtenaw County

Two additional cases of the UK COVID-19 variant have been identified in a pair of women living in Washtenaw County who were in close contact with the first person in Michigan to be diagnosed with the COVID-19 variant. 

All three individuals are associated with the University of Michigan, according the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Washtenaw County Health Department are announcing detection at the U-M laboratory of the two additional variant cases. The cases were among individuals who were close contacts of an adult woman living in Washtenaw County who tested positive for the variant after traveling to the United Kingdom, where the UK variant (B.1.1.7) originated. 

MDHHS announced the first case of the variant on Saturday. A total of seven additional cases are linked to that case. It is not yet known whether five other close contacts who have tested positive for COVID-19 are infected with the variant. All eight were directed to isolate. 

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.

"Because this variant is more contagious, we have been expecting more B.1.1.7 cases following Michigan’s first case being identified on Saturday," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. "Michiganders have followed the science and worked hard to slow the spread of COVID-19, resulting in dramatic improvements in our case numbers, deaths, hospitalizations and positivity rates. Now we need to redouble our efforts by continuing to wear masks properly, socially distance, avoid crowds, washing hand frequently, and make plans to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is our turn."

The 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. it is possible that there are more B.1.1.7 cases in Michigan that have not been identified.

"We are watching this situation as closely as possible," says Juan Luis Marquez, MD, MPH, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department. "And we ask everyone to continue to do everything they can to prevent transmission - mask, distance, avoid crowds or gatherings, clean your hands frequently, and follow isolation or quarantine guidance carefully."

The health departments are working closely with U-M on strategies to prevent spread of the virus. 

"While not unexpected, this means being even more vigilant with the public health measures that are known to prevent the spread of COVID-19," said Preeti Malani, MD, chief health officer at the University of Michigan. "The Community Surveillance and Tracking Program offers convenient testing to all members of the University of Michigan community." 

Based on available evidence, current tests and vaccines for COVID-19 also work against this new variant. Protective actions that prevent the spread of COVID-19 will also prevent the spread of the new variant, B.1.1.7.