(WSYM) — A new COVID-19 variant doctors first found in the United Kingdom is now here in Michigan. Over the weekend, we learned a woman from Washtenaw County who traveled to the U.K. has tested positive for the new strain.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is expected to announce new case numbers on Monday that will include the new variant.
There's a lot we will don't know about the variant, but it's believed to be more contagious. It comes just two weeks before restaurants are expected to open and finally allow indoor dining once again. That's why health experts are pleading with people to continue practicing social distancing, good hang hygiene and keep masks on.
What we are worried about is that it may spread more easily," Susan Ringler Cerniglia with the Washtenaw County Health Department said.
The new variant is called COVID-19 B.1.1.7. The woman who tested positive also had two of her close contacts test positive for COVID-19, but it's unclear if they have the new strain. All three are in isolation now.
State health experts called the new variant's arrival in Michigan concerning, but not unexpected.
The variant locks onto our cell receptors via a protein on the outer membrane of the coronavirus, according to Dr. Nicholas Yared with the Henry Ford Health System.
"It has a mutation of that spike protein and you can think of it as fitting like a better key. It’s easier for it to get into our cells and that’s allowed it to penetrate the cells and to spread faster," he said.
While it may spread faster, the new variant doesn't make you any sicker and does respond to vaccines.
Because doctors fear B.1.1.7. may spread faster, taking safety measures to prevent further spread they say have never been more important.
While the new variant will mean you test positive for COVID-19, a test doesn't necessarily indicate whether or not you have the new variant, another reason masks are still vital.