GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan has now confirmed 17 cases of the more transmissible coronavirus variant labeled B.1.17, all of them in southeastern Michigan, public health officials say.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said 13 of the cases were identified in Washtenaw County and four in Wayne County. She added there are likely more cases in the state that have not been detected.

“This variant is more easily spread from person to person, and that means that for any given case, it will likely infect more people and lead to more spread, and this means possibly more cases overall, more hospitalizations and deaths,” Khaldun said.

“The good news, though,” she continued, “this variant does not yet appear to cause more serious disease. Our current tests can identify it and our current vaccines appear to work against it.”

Still, she warned the variant is “concerning.” She urged people to stick to the mitigation practices that have helped fight the virus all along: frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks. Khaldun also urged people to get tested if they have symptoms of the virus, may have been exposed or have recently traveled out of the country or somewhere where the variant is spreading.

The comments came during a Monday afternoon briefing with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on the state’s response to coronavirus.

Alongside the governor was Elizabeth Hertel, who was appointed to lead the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services after former director Robert Gordon resigned Friday without explaining why. Hertel said she was grateful for the opportunity to serve and also thanked Gordon for his hard work with the department.

Whitmer thanked Gordon for his leadership during “unimaginable circumstances.” Asked repeatedly by reporters about his departure, she refused to say whether she asked for his resignation and would she discuss their relationship, saying only that “changes in administrations happen.” She wished him well.


MDHHS on Monday announced 3,011 more cases of the virus had been confirmed over the previous two days and 35 more associated deaths recorded.

Michigan has now had a total of 551,080 confirmed cases of the virus since it was first detected in the state in March 2020 and 14,326.

On Saturday, labs in Michigan tested 23,694 samples for the virus and 1,492 were positive, a rate of 6.3%. On Sunday, 26,220 samples were tested and 1,816 were positive, a rate of 6.93%.

The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.

Kent County confirmed 250 more cases over the two days for a total of 45,858 since the start of the outbreak and recorded one more death for a total of 586.

Kalamazoo County recorded two more deaths for a total of 268; it has had 12,347 total confirmed cases. Montcalm County recorded one more death for a total of 79; it has had a total of 3,107 confirmed cases.

Wayne County, home to Detroit, saw six more deaths and 424 more cases. It has had 3,727 total deaths and 89,072 total confirmed cases. Neighboring Oakland County has had 60,775 confirmed cases (278 more than Saturday’s data showed) and 1,769 deaths (three more). Macomb County has had 52,267 cases (190 more) and 1,724 deaths (two more).

The state also announced it was tracking 26 more outbreaks linked to K-12 schools, colleges and universities for a total of 70. None of the new outbreaks include more than 10 people; most are two or three. Colleges and universities continue to post the highest numbers.

Michigan’s average rate of daily positive tests is dropping, now nearing 6%; the case rate appears to be back on the downtrend after a plateau; hospitalizations are declining, with 9.2% of all beds in the state now treating COVID-19 patients; and the number of deaths each day is slowly improving. 

Citing the encouraging data, Whitmer announced Friday that restaurant dining rooms will be allowed to reopen Feb. 1, but with a curfew and 25% capacity limit. Business leaders say that is so few patrons that restaurant won’t be able to break even on dine-in service.

A Monday webinar on the new MI Safer Dining program, which will certify that bars and restaurants have optimized airflow, was postponed. It’s unclear why or when it will be held.


Whitmer has promised that every eligible Michigander who wants a vaccine will get one. She said while the rollout “will be picking up steam,” the state is still limited by how many doses it is getting. She and Khaldun urged patience while the state works to get more vaccines and pick up the pace of injections.


Also Monday, Whitmer announced the members of her Protect Michigan Commission, a task force designed to educate people about the COVID-19 vaccine, encourage them to get it and reach out to communities where there may be hesitancy.

Whitmer announced the creation of the commission in December as the first vaccine emergency use authorization was issued, explaining then it would be co-chaired by representatives from her administration, hospitals and small business. Whitmer said it will be headed up by Kerry Ebersole Singh, who runs a public affairs firm and helped lead Michigan’s census efforts this year.

Co-chairs include:

  • Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II
  • Dr. Joneigh Khaldun
  • Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
  • Former Lt. Gov. Brian N. Calley, Small Business Association of Michigan
  • Eva A. Garza Dewaelsche, SER Metro-Detroit, Jobs for Progress, Inc.
  • Tina Freese-Decker, Spectrum Health
  • Jamie Brown, Michigan Nurses Association
  • Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative

Workgroup leaders include:

  • Business Leaders workgroup: Dolf Van Amersfoort, Stellantis
  • Seniors workgroup: Dr. Brenda Surae Eaton, M.D., AARP
  • Youth (16-30) workgroup: Dondre Young, Community Foundation of Greater Flint
  • Rural workgroup: Chuck Lippstreu, Michigan Agri-Business Association
  • Latinx workgroup: Eva A. Garza Dewaelsche, SER Metro-Detroit, Jobs for Progress, Inc.
  • Asian Pacific American workgroup: Dr. S. Bobby Mukkamala, M.D., Michigan State Medical Society and American Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health
  • African American workgroup: Rev. Charles E. Williams, II, Historic King Solomon Baptist Church
  • Middle Eastern workgroup: Dr. Zafer I. Obeid, M.D., Arab American & Chaldean Council
  • Local Government workgroup: Dr. Deirdre Waterman, M.D., City of Pontiac
  • Disability workgroup: Tim Hileman, Special Olympics Michigan
  • Faith workgroup: Lea A. Luger, Yad Ezra
  • Labor and Workforce workgroup: Mike Shoudy, Michigan Education Association
  • Health Leaders workgroup: Melissa A. Holmquist, Upper Peninsula Health Plan
  • Education workgroup: Kristen McDonald Rivet, Michigan Future, Inc. and city of Bay City
  • Tribal workgroup: Sadie Valliere, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian
  • Women and Children workgroup: Denise L. Smith, Hope Starts Here Detroit

Members include:

  • Aamina Ahmed, Rising Voices of Asian American Families and New American Leaders
  • Dr. Colleen Allen, Ph.D., Autism Alliance of Michigan
  • Suzanne Miller Allen, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
  • Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber
  • Najah Bazzy, Michigan Muslim Community Council
  • Mark Behnke, City of Battle Creek
  • Amber Bellazaire, Michigan League for Public Policy
  • Evan Bonsall, City of Marquette
  • Dr. Nirali Bora, M.D., Kent County Health Department
  • April Bowen, Planned Parenthood of Michigan
  • Hodari Brown, National Business League Detroit Chapter
  • Laurel Burchfield, Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness
  • Robyn Burlingham, Tribal Council for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi
  • Anna Byberg, National Association of Social Workers
  • Kyle Caldwell, Council of Michigan Foundations
  • Chong-Anna Canfora, Michigan Community Action Association
  • Jim Carruthers, City of Traverse City
  • Carlo L. Castiglione, Plumbers Union Local 98
  • Guillermo Cisneros, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Steve Currie, Michigan Association of Counties
  • Derek J. Dobies, Michigan AFL-CIO and City of Jackson
  • Jeff Donofrio, Business Leaders for Michigan
  • John E. Duckworth, Baptist Council of Michigan
  • Dr. Brenda Surae Eaton, M.D., AARP
  • Karla Fales, CareWell Services Southwest, the Region 3B Area Agency on Aging in Barry and Calhoun Counties
  • Jennifer Fiedler, Michigan Townships Association
  • Diane N. Fleser, Disability Network of Michigan
  • Steve Grigorian, Detroit Economic Club
  • Kate Guzman, Oakland County
  • Ken L. Haney, Jr., SEIU Healthcare Michigan
  • Dan Hurley, Michigan Association of State Universities
  • Farah Jalloul, Michigan Pharmacists Association
  • Dr. Tina Kerr, Ph.D., Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators
  • Erin Knott, Equality Michigan
  • Kelley J. Kuhn, Michigan Nonprofit Association
  • John P. LaMacchia, Michigan Municipal League
  • Mike Larson, Michigan Association of United Ways
  • Laura LeBlanc, Volunteers of America Michigan
  • Robert LeFevre, Michigan Independent Colleges & Universities
  • Chuck Lippstreu, Michigan Agri-Business Association
  • Dr. Matt M. Longjohn, M.D., Western Michigan University Stryker School of Medicine
  • Dr. Felipe Lopez Sustaita, Ed.D., Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan
  • Jimena Loveluck, Washtenaw County
  • Mark Miller, Jewish Federation of Michigan
  • Joseph P. Murray, City of Dearborn
  • Bill Nowling, Wayne County
  • Dr. Zafer I. Obeid, M.D., Arab American & Chaldean Council
  • Jacqueline Ouvry, State of Michigan State Appellate Defender Office
  • Dominick J. Pallone, Michigan Association of Health Plans
  • Soumit Pendharkar, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
  • Dr. Delicia J. Pruitt, M.D., Saginaw County Health Department
  • Rico Razo, City of Detroit
  • Dr. Lawrence A. Reynolds, M.D., City of Flint
  • Melissa K. Samuel, Health Care Association of Michigan
  • Erin Schor, Michigan Community College Association
  • Mike Shoudy, Michigan Education Association
  • Dr. Constance B. Simon, Ed.D., NAACP
  • Dorian Slaybod, Farmworker Legal Services
  • Cindy Spurlock, AFSCME
  • Richard K. Studley, Michigan Chamber of Commerce
  • Ruthanne K. Sudderth, Michigan Health & Hospital Association
  • Madiha Tariq, ACCESS
  • Jeremy Tripp, Michigan Public Employees SEIU Local 517M
  • Linda Vail, Ingham County Health Department
  • Sadie Valliere, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian
  • John J. Walsh, Michigan Manufacturers Association
  • Dr. Sook Wilkinson, Ph.D., Council of Asian Pacific Americans of Michigan
  • Vicki Wolber, Macomb County
  • Rev. Dr. Jimmy Womack, M.D., Plymouth United Church of Christ

Legislative members include:

  • Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids
  • Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington
  • Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield
  • Rep. John Roth, R-Traverse City

The governor will give her annual State of the State address Wednesday evening. Because of the pandemic, it will be virtual.