Ascension St. John leaders express concern over COVID-19 variant in Wayne County

On Monday, the state of Michigan revealed a total of 17 people have tested positive for the COVID-19 variant first found in the U.K. including four in Wayne County.

Medical experts say it's more contagious than the original strain and now new preliminary data suggests it's more deadly. Ascension St. John Hospital's Infectious Disease Chief, Dr. Leonard Johnson, believes that it's possible that the variant has been in the U.S. for longer than we know.

"And remember this is because we just started looking. We don't know whether it was there or not before or not. There has been some screening of these variants before but definitely increasing the amount we're looking at right now," Dr. Johnson said. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci says he wants to see the data for himself however he says he has every reason to believe it.

"We haven't seen any of the data yet, he apparently has seen some of it. Without seeing the data, I can't confirm it independently but I think that it's enough to raise our concerns," Dr. Johnson said.

He's particularly concerned about the new variant as restaurants prepare to reopen for indoor dining on Feb. 1.

"We have to be very agile in terms of our decision-making we can't be stuck in a certain decision and just realize that the way this virus has gone, it throws us for curveballs all the time," Dr. Johnson said.

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, additional testing must be done in order to determine if that person has the UK strain. 

"They just send some random specimens because the state can only handle so many specimens," Dr. Johnson said.

That's concerning because people could have the strain and not even know it and could also be infecting others.

"That's where we have to watch for the spread of more cases of this variant in particular and ultimately the only thing that really matters is If there is an overall spike in cases and in Michigan," Dr. Johnson said.

Overall, COVID-19 cases are down in the state but medical experts say we must remain vigilant by washing our hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing.