JACKSON, Mich — A Jackson County boy has become the first-known person in Michigan to contract the COVID-19 variant B.1.351 from South Africa.
Jackson County Health Department Health Officer Rashmi Travis says officials are on heightened alert.
"We're conducting our contact tracing at this point," said Travis. "Our staff is digging deeper into who are the contacts, what are the levels of measures they need to take in terms of quarantine, what other testing needs to occur."
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says there is some evidence that this variant contains one protein spike that neutralizes some COVID antibodies, but the strategy remains the same when it comes to mitigation and vaccination efforts.
"Don't hesitate," said state health department Senior Public Health Physician Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian. "Now is the time to not only use those mitigation strategies, but now is the time to get vaccinated. If you have the opportunity to get vaccinated, get vaccinated at the soonest availability with whichever vaccine is available to you."
Bagdasarian says the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was tested in South Africa, and "we know that, even in that environment, the vaccine protected against severe disease and death, so that is a very promising piece of information."
There is some concern that there is a higher rate of transmission with the B.1.351 COVID variant.
"It could potentially affect the number of people that become ill," Bagdasarian said. "There is no evidence that this variant has an impact on the severity of disease or symptoms that people would manifest had they had COVID-19."
So far, the B.1.351 variant has been spotted in 20 other states.
"Knowing that some of these cases have happened in other places of the country and in other countries, I think it's something to be concerned about and something to be vigilant about," Travis said. "I think this raises our level of awareness in that we probably need to be doing that sequencing more frequently with tests that come in, now that we know we have 1 case."
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