A Washtenaw County woman has contracted the new B.1.1.7. COVID-19 variant, the first known case in the state of Michigan, according to a press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The woman recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where the variant first appeared. Two new COVID-19 cases have been identified from close contacts with the woman, but it is not yet known whether they are caused by the variant.

The B 1.1.7. case makes Michigan the 17th state to identify the variant within its borders. Though it is the only known case in Michigan, it is possible there are more that have not been identified, according to the press release. 

The new variant is believed to be more contagious, but not any more severe, than the original COVID-19 virus that has been circulating in the United States since early 2020. The higher rate of transmission could increase the number of hospitalizations and deaths resulting from the virus if it spreads widely in Michigan. 

Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health at MDHHS, said in the press release that to combat spread of the new variant, Michiganders should continue to wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds, wash their hands often and make a plan for getting a vaccine when it’s their turn.

“The discovery of this variant in Michigan is concerning, but not unexpected,” Khaldun said. “We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

The B.1.1.7 variant’s arrival comes as local health departments charged with administering vaccines struggle to keep pace with high demand while receiving lower than expected supply of doses. While Michigan officially began Phase 1B — which includes senior citizens and frontline essential workers — on Monday, it may not have enough vaccines to vaccinate most members of this group until a later date. 

The Washtenaw County Health Department announced Friday it would be rescheduling its Jan. 19 appointments until Feb. 9 because the vaccine clinic hadn’t received enough supply to operate. 

Michigan Medicine recently paused plans to begin vaccinating individuals in Phase 1B to ensure enough supply for health care workers, who are in Phase 1A, to receive their second dose. The hospital  did not administer any first doses of the vaccine on Thursday, according to a Michigan Medicine FAQ page. The health system aims to administer 90% of vaccine doses received each week. It’s received over 26,000 total, as of Friday afternoon. 

University of Michigan community members who wish to be vaccinated by Michigan Medicine must fill out the Blue Queue questionnaire, establish a medical record number if they do not have one and create a MyUofMHealth account. They will be contacted to schedule an appointment when vaccinations are available for their phase.

At a COVID-19 briefing yesterday, University President Mark Schlissel said the University would eventually vaccinate everyone and currently has the capacity to vaccinate 28,000 people a week if enough vaccines are available. He encouraged the University community to remain patient and vigilant.

“This is very messy, a lot of these decisions are arguable, a lot of the advice that we’re getting or mandates from the state or the feds are changing with time, and all we can ask is your forbearance,” Schlissel said. “We are trying to vaccinate as many people as we can, as efficiently as we can, using all the vaccine we can get our hands on.”

Daily News Editor Calder Lewis can be reached at caldell@umich.edu

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