Three total cases of the B.1.1.7. variant of COVID-19 have been identified in the University of Michigan community, according to a University press release Thursday evening.
It was publicly announced Thursday evening that the first case of the variant in the state of Michigan, identified last week, had ties to the University. Two more female residents in Washtenaw County with ties to the University have been diagnosed with the variant, and both of these cases had been in close contact with the first case, the press release stated.
So far, seven cases total have been linked to the first case, an adult female who first tested positive for the variant in Michigan after traveling to the United Kingdom — where the B.1.1.7. strain was first identified — according to the press release. It is not yet known if the five other cases not connected to the University are of the B.1.1.7 variant.
There are three confirmed cases of B.1.17 in Michigan right now, all of which are in Washtenaw County and connected to the University. In a press release, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said they expect more cases of the variant to turn up by Saturday due to its contagious nature.
According to the University press release, all three individuals have been isolated and are experiencing mild to no symptoms. All close contacts have also been tested and are quarantining, the press release said.
Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, said in the press release the variant is believed to be more contagious than the original strain of the virus, but there is no research to show that the variant increases severity of symptoms.
“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,” Khaldun said. “Now we need to redouble our efforts by continuing to wear masks properly, socially distance, avoid crowds, washing hands frequently, and make plans to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is our turn.”
Earlier this week, University President Mark Schlissel told The Michigan Daily the presence of the variant is of concern though not surprising. Schlissel added it is unlikely the University will have enough vaccine supply to distribute to most students this semester, as priority groups are scheduled to receive the vaccine first.
“I think all of us have to presume that if (the variant is) in Washtenaw County, it’ll be in our campus community,” Schlissel said in the interview. “It’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t since we have so many people. We’re really one community, so I think we have to treat one another and presume as if the strain’s around.”
MDHHS and the Washtenaw County Health Department encourage Ann Arbor residents and students to continue practicing COVID-19 precautions recommended by the World Health Organization.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily in a Friday email that MDHSS and the University are working to sequence all tests from campus, regardless of connection to other B.1.1.7 cases.
Preeti Malani, chief health officer at Michigan Medicine, also said this new variant is not unexpected and Washtenaw County residents should be much more vigilant about actions they’re taking.
Malani said participating in the University’s Community Sampling and Tracking Program — which is open to all members of the U-M community — will help control the spread of the virus, including the new strain. U-M community members can also sign up to receive the vaccine when it is available using the Blue Queue questionnaire.
Daily Staff Reporter Shannon Stocking can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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