Two more people in Michigan are confirmed to be infected with a more contagious variant of COVID-19.
The state health department says the two women who tested positive are close contacts of the first Michigan resident to be diagnosed with the variant on Saturday. The first person known to have contracted the variant, B.1.1.7, had traveled to the U.K. All three women live in Washtenaw County and are associated with the University of Michigan.
The more contagious variant was first discovered in Britain.
Experts say there's no evidence the variant causes more severe illness, but because there's evidence it's more contagious, it could lead to more hospitalizations or deaths if it circulates widely in the state.
In a press release Thursday evening, health officials said a total of seven cases are linked to the initial case, but it's not known yet whether five of those people who have tested positive for COVID are infected with the variant:
All eight were directed to isolate. B.1.1.7. 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.
“Because this variant is more contagious, we have been expecting more B.1.1.7 cases following Michigan’s first case being identified on Saturday,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said in a statement. “Michiganders have followed the science and worked hard to slow the spread of COVID-19, resulting in dramatic improvements in our case numbers, deaths, hospitalizations and positivity rates. Now we need to redouble our efforts by continuing to wear masks properly, socially distance, avoid crowds, washing hand(s) frequently, and make plans to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is our turn.”
You can learn more about the Michigan labs that are on the hunt for the B.1.1.7 variant in this story by Michigan Radio's Will Callan.