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Whitmer, health exec: COVID-19 variant could affect re-opening plans

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Governor Gretchen Whitmer and state health officials say they are very concerned about a new variant of COVID-19 that’s been found in Michigan. And that could affect the course of the state’s response and the pace of re-opening more schools, sports, and businesses.

Whitmer says the cautious re-opening of some sectors has been possible because earlier restrictions have worked.

“But we are also very mindful of the fact that this variant is now here in Michigan and it poses a very real threat,” she said during an online news conference.

Thirteen cases of the variant have been identified in Washtenaw County, and four in Wayne County.

“This variant is more easily spread from person to person, and that means for any given case, it will likely infect more people and lead to more spread,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive.

“And this means possibly more cases overall, more hospitalizations, and more deaths," Khaldun said. "The good news is, though, this variant does not yet appear to cause more severe disease. Our current tests can identify it, and our current vaccines appear to work against it.”

The Legislature’s GOP leaders have pressed for more re-openings. The governor says she won’t bargain about health and safety measures in exchange for Senate action on her appointments.

That includes her new health and human services director, Elizabeth Hertel, who is in charge of the state’s COVID response.

Monday’s press conference is the first since now-former Michigan Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon’s sudden resignation Friday for unexplained reasons.

The governor would not add any details on the reasons for Gordon’s departure.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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