BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant has now been identified in Calhoun, Eaton and Van Buren counties, with Kalamazoo County also adding new cases, health officials said Monday.
There are four cases in Calhoun County, according to a release from the health department. Three of the patients are members of the same family. None of the four patients have needed to be hospitalized.
The Calhoun County Public Health Department said it is conducting contact tracing and will be getting any close contacts to isolate themselves.
The Barry-Eaton District Health Department said its case was confirmed late Sunday. In a release, it said that no information about the patient was immediately available.
Van Buren County also identified its first case of the variant late Sunday night. Health officials did not have information about the patient available.
Additionally, Kalamazoo County, which confirmed its first case last week, announced it has identified three more, none of which were linked to the initial patient. The three new patients include a person in his/her 20s with travel history, a person in his/her 50s with no travel history and a person in his/her 30s with unknown travel history.
So far, about 40 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been identified in Michigan, including one in Kent County. Public health officials warned that the variant may be present elsewhere but not yet identified.
“(Kalamazoo County’s) three new cases identified of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. without clear connection between each other tells us that community spread is likely occurring. This is not unexpected news. We know this variant is more contagious,” Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department Medical Director Dr. William Nettleton said in a statement.
The B.1.1.7 variant, which was originally found in the United Kingdom, spreads more quickly than the dominant strain in the United States and it does not currently appear to cause more severe cases of the illness. The good news is that the COVID-19 vaccines being used in the U.S. are effective against it.
The variant is spreading around the country. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, says it could be the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of March. He says the best defense against both B.1.1.7 and further mutations is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
He is not recommending transition to a single-dose approach with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
“If you get a suboptimum response, the way viruses respond to pressure, you could actually be inadvertently selecting for more mutants,” Fauci said Monday. “So, for that reason, we have continued to go by the fact that we feel the optimum approach would be to continue with getting as many people on their first dose as possible but also making sure that people on time get their second dose.”
Health officials urge everyone to continue to following COVID-19 mitigation protocols to help slow the spread of the variant and the dominant strain.
“The identification of the B.1.1.7 variant in Calhoun County underscores the importance of our community wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding social gatherings, washing our hands, getting tested for COVID-19, and getting vaccinated,” Nettleton said.
The biggest obstacle providers continue to face is vaccine supply.
“That’s not the state’s fault. They do an awesome job. They get so many doses a week and they have to spread it across all of the counties across the entire state of Michigan and so I’m sure they’re just on pins and needles, just like we are locally,” Kent County Health Department immunization program supervisor Mary Wisinski told News 8.
Previously, 5.6 million people were identified as the threshold Michigan must inoculate to reach herd immunity. The state has set a goal of 50,000 doses administered per day. The infrastructure is in place as more providers, like Meijer, announce additional clinics. The available doses just need to meet demand.
In the meantime, officials warn against giving in to the “fatigue.”
“Especially with these variants that are starting to crop up, we can’t let our guard down now,” Wisinski said.
—WLNS.com staff contributed to this report.