Coronavirus in Michigan: Week 45

More contagious COVID-19 variant travels from Europe to Michigan

Vail: ‘Only a matter of time’ before new variant lands in Greater Lansing

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TUESDAY, Jan. 19 — The first case of the latest COVID-19 variant — B117 — was identified last week in an adult woman living in Washtenaw County. State health officials said the woman recently traveled to the United Kingdom, where this comparably more contagious variant of the virus originated.

Health officials warn that this variant spreads more quickly, but there is no indication that it affects the clinical outcomes or severity of the disease compared to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been circulating across the United States for months. To date, the new variant has been detected in 16 other states. The Washtenaw County case is the only one tracked in Michigan.

Michigan Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun described the discovery as “concerning but not unexpected” in a press release from last week. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told reporters today that it’s only a matter of time before it arrives in Lansing.

“It’s more transmissible. We know that the things we do to mitigate that transmission work and they will work for something that is more transmissible as well,” Vail said. “The degree in which we get adherence to social distancing and mask wearing will help protect us from this as well.”

For now, state officials are paying closer attention to those who tested positive for the coronavirus and also have a history of recent travel to the United Kingdom, Vail explained. Those test samples will be specifically genetically sequenced to locate additional cases.

All FDA-approved versions of the COVID-19 vaccine are also effective against the new variant.

In related news…

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined governors from Minnesota and Wisconsin in expressing frustrations with President Donald Trump’s “botched” vaccine distribution plan this week, urging the Department of Health and Human Services to grant permission for states to directly purchase their own doses of the vaccine. The goal: Get more shots in arms — and quickly.

Whitmer and eight other governors urged the federal government last week to distribute millions of doses that were reportedly being held back by the Trump administration. But according to reports in the Washington Post, those federal stockpiles have already been entirely exhausted.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 1 million doses of the vaccine had been distributed across the state of Michigan, but only about 488,000 of those doses have actually been administered.

The Lansing Mall will serve as a temporary vaccination site for the Barry-Eaton District Health Department after the space in its Hastings and Charlotte offices could not accommodate the volume of appointments. Those eligible include frontline healthcare workers, people 65 and older and certain essential employees who are consistently exposed to the coronavirus.

Forest Community Health Center has also been approved as a COVID-19 vaccination site in Ingham County, but officials have yet to receive details about vaccine availability. Those eligible for the vaccine who applied through the Ingham County Health Department will be contacted for appointments for the shot, which will be administered at no cost when they’re made available.

State epidemic orders amended last week now allow for indoor group exercise and non-contact sports in Michigan. Still, health officials are urging families to stay home as much as possible, avoid indoor gatherings and pick a single other household to interact over the coming weeks.

The Michigan Strategic Fund approved two grant programs last week totaling $58.5 million in relief for small businesses and live event venues impacted by the pandemic. Grants of up to $20,000 will be awarded to businesses that are fully closed, with grants of up to $15,000 for those that have been partially closed or otherwise remain open but took a financial hit. That includes about $3 million in funding for businesses in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties.

Businesses that require social gatherings for customers and have experienced disrupted operations due to the latest COVID-19 epidemic orders now also have more time to make monthly or quarterly sales, use and withholding tax payments. State officials extended the deadline last week until at least Feb. 20 and waived all penalties and interest for 33 days.

State officials released guidance today that called for colleges and universities to require COVID-19 testing of students, even if they don’t live on campus. Recommendations include weekly testing of all undergraduate students who regularly interact with the campus community.

As students return to Michigan State University, health officials are also reminding residents that emergency orders still prohibit indoor gatherings of no more than 10 people in parts of East Lansing. Statewide epidemic orders also limit gatherings to no more than two households. Face coverings are also required both indoors and outdoors downtown and on MSU’s campus.

The city of Lansing joined other cities across the country on Wednesday evening in hosting a lighting ceremony to remember and honor the lives that have been lost to COVID-19 over the last year. In Lansing, that included plans to illuminate City Hall and other city buildings.

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