Michigan doctors studying B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant as cases increase

Michigan doctors are studying the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant.

"Our experience is that this is more transmissible, just as they found in the UK," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the senior public health physician with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that the state has one of the highest rates of the variant in the country.

"Most of our cases have been associated with outbreaks and in particular one very large outbreak with MDOC (Michigan Department of Corrections)," Bagdasarian said.

A large amount of Michigan's B.1.1.7 variant cases are in the correctional system.

She said that about half of the 908 cases in the state can be tracked to the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia.

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

"That has skewed our results. It's not a random sample for the state as a whole," Bagdasarian said.

Bagdasarian said the only way to tell what variant a positive COVID case consists of  is to do "sequencing." State labs ramping up those efforts, and are now sequencing about 10%  of positive cases.

"The more the virus transmits, the higher the likelihood of new variants arising," she said.

She said the vaccine is still our best option for fighting the virus. It has been shown effective in fighting variants, but less effective in the South African and Brazilian strains.  
Only the South African strain has been found in Michigan after a child in Jackson County tested positive earlier this month.

One case of the South African COVID-19 variant was discovered in Michigan.

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

"People are traveling to other states and countries. There is a big risk of them bringing back one of these variants," Bagdasarian said.

She is warning against travel and urging people to get tested for COVID before they leave and when they return if they plan to travel for spring break.