GENESEE COUNTY — The Genesee County Health Department has confirmed its first case of a highly contagious COVID-19 variant in the county.
Last Wednesday, the health department was notified that a Genesee County man had contracted the B117 COVID-19 variant after traveling outside the county for a routine pre-surgery test in Metro Detroit. County health officials said that the man has been asymptomatic and is doing well.
According to Danielle Lederer, an epidemiologist with the Genesee County Health Department, B117 is 50 percent more transmissible than the existing SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19). While B117 is not believed to cause more serious symptoms, she said that its higher rate of contagiousness could put a greater strain on public health systems.
“Because this variant spreads faster, we could potentially see a higher number of cases and, as a result, more hospitalizations and more deaths,” Lederer said. “We believe it will become the dominant strain in the months to come if strong additional public health measures aren’t taken.”
Lederer said that the variant is a natural mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that, over time, developed a genetic mechanism to become more transmissible.
B117, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, has spread through the United States since early January. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), there have been 167 cases of the variant reported in over a dozen counties throughout Michigan.
In an update given last week, MDHHS Executive Director Joneigh Khaldun said that most of the state’s B117 cases did not originate from the U.K., noting that the state is reaching a level of “community spread” with the variant.
As of Monday, Genesee County’s COVID-19 positivity rate stood at 2.9 percent, while the virus’s fatality rate was 3.2 percent. There have been 21,473 cases of COVID-19 recorded in the state since last March with 697 deaths.
Altogether, over 60,000 people have received a COVID- 19 vaccine in Genesee County, with around 45,000 receiving their first dose and over 16,000 getting their second dose. Over 14,000 people have received their first vaccine dose from the county health department.
Around 150,000 people are eligible for the vaccine in phase 1B, but the county health department has received just over 50,000 doses to address all phase 1A and 1B individuals in the county.
Visit gchd.us to see more updates on COVID-19 case data and vaccination numbers.