The highly contagious coronavirus mutation that emerged in the United Kingdom has now been identified in three women in Washtenaw County.
According to a press release from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), all three women are linked to the University of Michigan.
The first Michigan case of the coronavirus mutation, known as B.1.1.7., was detected on Saturday in a Washtenaw County woman who had recently traveled to the U.K. On Thursday, officials announced that the mutation had been detected in two additional women who were in close contact with the first.
Five other people linked to the first patient have also tested positive for the coronavirus, but it's not known if they have the mutation. All have been told to quarantine.
MHSS says it believes it's possible that there are more B.1.1.7 cases in Michigan that have not yet been identified. It says it's working with U-M and the Washtenaw County health department to monitor the situation closely.
"Because this variant is more contagious, we have been expecting more B.1.1.7 cases following Michigan’s first case being identified on Saturday," Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, said in a statement.
While B.1.1.7. is believed to be up to 50% more contagious than the original coronavirus strain, there's no indication that it's deadlier. It's also believed that the existing COVID-19 vaccines still work against it.
However, "The higher rate of transmission could increase the number of people who need to be hospitalized or who lose their lives to COVID-19 should the new variant begin circulating widely in Michigan," MHHS says in a press release.
Khaldun emphasized the need for people to continue taking precautions against the spread of the virus.
"Now we need to redouble our efforts by continuing to wear masks properly, socially distance, avoid crowds, washing hand frequently, and make plans to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is our turn," she said.