GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The senior epidemiologist for Ottawa County says the best way to take on COVID-19 variants is to act as if mutations already occurred and the variant could be circulating within the community.

News 8 asked Ottawa County Department of Public Health Senior Epidemiologist Derel Glashower about different variants of the virus discovered overseas and in the United States. The U.K. strain, called B.1.1.7, has since been identified in California, Colorado, Florida and New York so far.

“This is common among respiratory viruses,” Glashower explained. “When a virus is moving though a population and infecting millions and millions of people, those are all different opportunities to interact with different immune systems and so there is the possibility of these small mutations with each infection that creates these small changes over time as it moves across a population.”

He highlighted social distancing and mask guidelines that continue to be in place in an effort to quell cases and deaths.

“I think it’s highly likely that we have some sort of variant circulating here in Michigan and I think that for all of us, I think we should just act like the variant is in our community just because it will kind of help us get over our concern and also help recognize that we have lots and lots of tools available to help us prevent COVID-19 in any form right now,” the epidemiologist added.

The vaccine is also an integral tool to fight the virus. In order to prepare for wider distribution and help keep people informed, Ottawa County launched a notification sign-up page.

It asks for your name, email, county of residence and information on which rollout phase you best fit into.

“Even if you don’t live in Ottawa County, you can still sign up through the link,” Glashower said.

He is also directing people to visit West Michigan’s website dedicated to vaccine information.

The CDC is sharing updates as variants are being detected around the globe and noted currently there is no evidence that points to the discoveries causing more severe cases or increased deaths.

“Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic,” the agency wrote on its Jan. 3 update.