Health systems prepare for new COVID-19 variant as 1st MI case found


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., (WOOD) — Doctors say they believe a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 may already be in West Michigan.

The B.1.1.7 strain was first discovered in the United Kingdom in December. It is now in several U.S. states including New York, Georgia, Colorado, California and Florida. Saturday afternoon, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced the first case in Michigan.

The state says the patient is from Washtenaw County on the east side of the state. She recently traveled to the UK.

“Mutations happen all the time when viruses replicate, so really we were kind of expecting it,” said Dr. Andrew Jameson with Mercy Health in Grand Rapids.

Jameson says it’s likely only a matter of time before the new strain is discovered in West Michigan too.

“I think most of us probably feel like it’s been here already,” Jameson said. “When you start seeing it in the community, from a particular test, you know that it’s been circulating for some time.”

Jameson says scientists have to be actively looking for the mutated virus because a regular COVID-19 test does not produce information on the strain of virus the patient has.

Jameson says the B.1.1.7 strain is presenting another challenge at a time where health systems are already struggling to roll out life-saving vaccines.

“It’s really difficult to plan on how much vaccine to give when you don’t know how much you’re getting. For us in West Michigan, our health systems have gotten less than half of what our ask was for next week,” Jameson said.

Over the last week, the state health department reported a steadily decreasing positivity rate. With the new strain and issues getting people in the community inoculated, Mercy Health says they are working with their local partners as they brace for numbers to potentially begin to rise again.

Mercy Health says because there was not a significant spike after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, they’re still cautiously optimistic.

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