GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Kent County Health Department says its discovered the first case of a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 in the area.
The variant is known as SARS-Cov-2 B.1.1.7.
“I’m a little surprised that we haven’t had more cases of this variant here in West Michigan and that it hasn’t happened sooner than this,” said Dr. Adam London, KCHD director.
According to London, a woman in her 20s contracted it, but it’s not clear how. He says there is no travel history to the United Kingdom, where the variant originated last year.
“This was a specimen that was sequenced by the state of Michigan for identification as this variant,” said London. “Right now, they are pulling some of those samples across the state as part of a surveillance effort to find where the spread of this variant is occurring.”
London says the woman has since recovered and is doing well. KCHD does not believe she spread it to anyone else, but is contact tracing.
“We are now looking at their close contacts and making sure that it didn’t spread from them and also looking at other cases that were in proximity to this person as well,” said London.
While the symptoms and severity of the new strain do not appear to be any different than the original, London says B.1.1.7 spreads more easily which is why the mutation is cause for concern. According to London transmission is between 50 and 70 percent higher.
London worries about the impact of further spread, saying as of now, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in West Michigan are manageable.
“Keep doing those things that make it difficult for coronavirus to spread,” said London. “Wearing facial covering, social distancing, avoiding gatherings and parties, and good hand hygiene.”
London adds continuing to vaccinate as many people as possible is key too. He says current research shows the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to protect against B.1.1.7.
“We’re going to be continuing to look for this variant and any other variant that may arise hear in West Michigan,” said London. “It’s very important that we find those variants and isolate them the best that we can, so we try to interrupt them from becoming dominant in our community.”
The KCHD is encouraging testing of individuals who have traveled out of Michigan in last 14 days, especially to areas in which the new variants are widely circulating.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has identified 30 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Michigan.