First Michigan case of new COVID-19 variant found in Jackson County

The first Michigan case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.351 was identified in a male child living in Jackson County by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Bureau of Laboratories on March 8.

The case investigation is currently underway to determine close contacts and if there are additional cases associated with this case, according to an MDHHS release.

Originally detected in early October 2020 in South Africa, B.1.351 shares some mutations with B.1.1.7. Cases caused by this variant were reported in the United States at the end of January 2021.

B.1.351 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. Scientists are still evaluating how well COVID-19 vaccines work against this new variant.

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. To date, the virus has been identified in at least 20 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.

"We are concerned about the discovery of another variant in Michigan, although it was not unexpected," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. "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. We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic as quickly as possible."

Based on available evidence, current tests can identify COVID-19 in these cases. The available COVID-19 vaccines also work against this new variant. Protective actions that prevent the spread of COVID-19 will also prevent the spread of both identified variants in Michigan, B.1.1.7 and B.1.351. 

According to the MDHHS, Michiganders should:

  • Get vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • Wear a mask around others.
  • Stay six feet apart from others. 
  • Wash hands often.
  • Ventilate indoor spaces. 

As of March 8, Michigan has also identified 516 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in 23 Michigan jurisdictions.