Health officials tracking explosion of B.1.1.7 coronavirus cases in Michigan prison

An explosion of new coronavirus cases at a mid-Michigan prison is being attributed to prisoner's exposure to a new more infectious variant of the pandemic virus.

The Michigan health department has detected 90 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia County. 

Health officials were first tipped off to possible exposure after an employee of the facility tested positive for the variant.

The health department's first batch of samples showed 90 of 95 people were found to be carrying the variant. Only two were employees while the rest were prisoners. 

The health department said in a statement that it still has more than 100 lab results pending. 

Michigan health officials have been in a race to distribute as many vaccines as possible before the new more contagious variant takes hold across the state. Prior to the virus outbreak at the Ionia prison, the health department had confirmed 67 cases of the new variant.

A mutation that originally was detected in the United Kingdom, it's quickly spread across Europe and the U.S. during early 2021. Some experts theorize it could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March due to its highly infectious nature.

The virus doesn't appear to cause any more adverse effects and vaccine treatments have been shown to be just as effective against it.

Most of those cases have been confirmed in Washtenaw County, forcing local health departments and the University of Michigan to enter temporary lockdowns to hamper the spread.

Even with a widening spread of the new UK strain, Michigan's coronavirus infection rate is dipping to pre-fall levels last year. Cases are decreasing in most counties in south Michigan The seven-day average for new cases is also below a thousand.