(WXYZ) — New data released this week by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows statewide, there are now 725 cases of the COVID B.1.1.7 variant, first reported in the UK.
The variant, believed to be more contagious, is spreading around the state and showing up in large numbers in the state's prison facilities. Of Michigan's B.1.1.7 cases, more than half of them -- 58 percent -- were reported in MDOC facilities.
The first facility to report the variant was Bellemay Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia back in early February, which at that time prompted daily testing of inmates and MDOC staff there.
To date there are now 420 cases of the COVID B.1.1.7 variant within MDOC according to MDHHS; the bulk remain at Bellamy Creek according to MDOC, however there are 15 cases of the variant at Macomb Correctional in Lennox Township and two cases at Duane Waters Health Center in Jackson.
Elder Yusef Qualls has a son, also named Yusef, who has been at Macomb Correctional for 25 years. Being unable to visit with his during the pandemic has been hard enough, but news of this new variant spreading has only added to his concern.
“It’s terrifying," he told Action News.
Outside of MDOC, state health officials say the continued spread of new variants, specifically B.1.1.7, is cause for concern. It's now in both peninsulas, and confirmed in 31 counties.
15 percent of all B.1.1.7 cases nationwide are in Michigan.
Florida, California, and Colorado are other states showing the largest numbers of the variant cases.
Qualls son is healthy, but he said his cellmate recently got sick with the traditional strain of COVID-19, so his son has moved cells within the facility.
“He did indicate that they do test and they test quite frequently," he said.
In-person visits within MDOC facilities will resume March 26, and Qualls said new variant or not, he's determined to go.
The elder Qualls just received his vaccine.
“We haven’t seen him in over a year," he said. "If I’m able to be there I’ll be there."