COVID variant found in Kalamazoo

Health officials have discovered a more-contagious strain of the coronavirus in a patient in Kalamazoo County.

A more easily transmissible variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been discovered in Kalamazoo County.

Health officials announced on Thursday that the B.1.1.7 strain of SARS-CoV-2 had been discovered in a patient in Kalamazoo County. The patient is is older than 80 and has not traveled recently.

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The B.1.1.7 strain – also referred to as the UK variant due to its discovery in England – has now been identified in 33 U.S. states. Thursday’s announcement is the first of this variant in a person outside southeast Michigan. As of Thursday, there have been 29 confirmed cases, all but one in Wayne and Washtenaw counties.

The B.1.1.7 variant is estimated to be 50% more contagious than the versions we are used to, though it isn’t expected to cause more severe symptoms. The increased transmissibility worries health officials who warn that it could lead to a surge in new cases of COVID-19.

The variant in Kalamazoo County was discovered in a random sample of COVID tests sent to a state lab. That suggests there could be more cases of the variant spreading in Kalamazoo County already without our knowledge. The county is conducting contact tracing on the patient to identify and quarantine people with whom they have had contact.

“The identification of the B.1.1.7 variant in Kalamazoo County underscores the importance of our community wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding social gatherings, washing our hands, getting tested for COVID and getting vaccinated,” said Dr. William Nettleton, Medical Director of Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department.

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