Marquette County Health Department comments on COVID-19 variant

Coronavirus

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (NIAID/National Institutes of Health via AP)

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – The Marquette County Health Department released the following statement on a COVID-19 variant detected in Michigan.

“A COVID variant, known as B.1.1.7 (aka the UK variant), was identified in Michigan over the weekend in a downstate resident. This variant was first detected in the UK in mid-December and has since spread to 15 US states with approximately 88 cases as of January 15, along with at least 30 other countries. The number of countries and states with this variant is expected to be much higher, and the CDC states that it may become the dominant COVID virus with time. Mutations in viruses are expected, with the COVID virus undergoing an average of one mutation every two weeks. New variants of viruses occur when there is a change (mutation) to the virus’ genes. Mutations can result in three outcomes for a virus:

  • some mutations may kill the virus
  • others may result in no change, and
  • some may result in a virus that has a clinical, virologic, or epidemiological difference.

Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear; other times, new variants emerge and persist.

What is currently known about the variant B.1.1.7:

  • Associated with increased transmissibility (i.e., more efficient and rapid transmission).
  • No impact on the severity of disease or vaccine efficacy.
  • Little-to-no impact is expected for natural immunity or current testing.
  • No indication that the new variant exhibits any changes in the virus composition that would impact current vaccines’ effectiveness.
  • No impact on the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatments.

The estimate of greater transmissibility (as much as 70 percent more transmissible) is based on modeling and epidemiologic data, but has not been confirmed in lab experiments. How this variant, if it becomes the dominant circulating virus, will affect Michigan and the Upper Peninsula’s current reproduction (transmission) rate of COVID is unknown but concerning, as stated by a recent Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) media release.

The Upper Peninsula has routinely participated in Michigan’s whole genomic surveillance program even before this variant was known. MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories performs whole genome sequencing to accurately examine outbreaks within facilities, community transmission dynamics, and the emergence of new variants. The Upper Peninsula has multiple sites that provide ten samples per week as part of its surveillance program. Currently, the Upper Peninsula has no concerning variants identified.

Rigorous and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential to limiting the spread of COVID and any of its variants.”

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