JACKSON, Mich. (WLNS) — One year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it has infected 29 million people and killed half a million in the United States alone. Now, as the state slowly vaccinates its population against the disease, public health officials have confirmed a highly transmissible variant in Jackson County.
“It is the first variant (of its kind) that’s been identified to this point in the state,” Rashmi Travis, a health officer with the Jackson County Health Department, said.
The B.1.351 variant was first detected in South Africa last October. On Monday, it was found in a boy in Jackson. While it’s not more deadly, it is more contagious, which is why officials say there needs to be a renewed emphasis on social distancing measures.
“Continue to be vigilant with mask wearing,” Travis said. “As well as maintaining 6 feet and still continue to get the vaccine.”
People in mid-Michigan are mixed on their level of concern about the variant.
“Not at all (concerned),” resident Paul Borger said. “I mean, what’s the alternative? You get the vaccine with the best hopes that it’s going to work for what we know and even the extent that we don’t know.”
“I’m definitely going to be practicing social distancing a bit more,” Jacob Johnson of Jackson said. “(My concern is) the health of others. If I go over to my grandparents…I don’t want to be a risk to them.”
There’s no way to know what effect the new strain will have on the battle against COVID-19. Experts say early studies indicate the vaccines being used in the U.S. are not as effective against the B.1.351 variant as the dominant strain in the nation.
“We don’t have the numbers yet in detail to say it’s 10 times more effective or five times more effective,” Courtland Keteyian, a preventative medicine specialist at Henry Ford Allegiance in Jackson, said. “We still don’t know yet.”
While we don’t have all the answers, we do have a starting point.
“We’ve been at this for a long time and I think people have kind of gotten in a rhythm of how to behave in a pandemic,” Keteyian said. “Overall, people should still be very optimistic that we have better treatments, we have vaccines, we have the understanding of how to behave socially. But it is more transmissible, it is easier to spread; it’s not time for us to let our guard down yet.”