Officials increase efforts to identify COVID-19 variants

Coronavirus

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Health officials in Kalamazoo County are reminding people to continue to take precautions after a case of the U.K. coronavirus variant was confirmed this week.

Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Medical Director Dr. William Nettleton says test results were confirmed on Thursday by a state laboratory.

The results show a woman in the county over the age of 80 was infected with B.1.1.7, also known as the U.K. variant.

The patient did not have a history of travel, which indicates she was infected within the community.

Nettleton says her condition is improving.

“She is doing fine. She is outside of the hospital,” Nettleton said.

The variant is drawing concern because it is more contagious than the original strain of the virus.

“It spreads more easily. There’s not an indication at this point and time that it causes more severe disease, or it makes vaccines or medications less effective,” Nettleton said.

Health officials across Michigan are increasing efforts to find variants.

“The state public health department and local public health department has really been encouraging hospital laboratories, private laboratories, to be sending specimens of the virus that causes COVID-19 to the state public health laboratory to be sequenced,” Nettleton said.

All viruses mutate over time and the more time they have, the more significant those changes can be.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, says the variants show the importance of the need to increase vaccine production and distribution.

“Of course, we’re very concerned about these new variants. We have identified the B.1.1.7 variant in the state, but we expect there to be more and potentially other variants — the Brazil variant, the South African variant in the state. I think it’s more and more important that everyone gets vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Khaldun said in a news briefing on Friday.

Public health officials want people to take precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus and new variants.

“We’ve got to continue to wear masks that’s one of the best ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We’ve got to continue to socially distance,” Nettleton said.

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