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Health, Science and Environment

UK Covid variant in Michigan, likely more widespread than known


The UK Coronavirus strain has been identified in a growing number of counties in Michigan. Some officials are saying it may be more widespread than current metrics show.



Jennifer Morse is the medical director for the Central Michigan, Mid-Michigan, and district 10 health department, she said this strain is difficult to contain and difficult to distinguish from the prevalent strain in the US.

“It’s more contagious, and it is just much more prevalent than we know, and not every single case can be or will be genotyped to know what variant it is,” said Morse.

The difficulty of distinguishing and tracking comes down the the genotype testing, it requires more time and resources so it isn't possible to check each postive case. She said there are some less reliable methods being explored to distinguish the strain, but the only sure fire way is to do a full genotype test. She explained that in most cases the samples are randomly selected, so if there are cases of different strains they may not even be discovered.

As of Tuesday only 10 counties in Michigan had detected the strain, more than 51% of the cases of the strain came from one county, Washtenaw. Morse said that where some of the strain has been found more genotype testing was being implemented, Ann Arbor was the biggest example.

"In Ann Arbor, they’ve been doing numerous testing sites since the first case was detected, so at U of M and other locations they’re doing free testing and all of those samples are going for genotyping,” said Morse.

Morse said that while teh testing isn't perfectly reliabel for tracking the strains it can at least be a warning indicator for the presence of the UK and other strains. She said we're fortunate to even be able to test for that.

Morse said, "not every state has a lab that can do genotyping, we are really fortunate."

She said since March there have been some six thousand samples genotyped, and that it has all helped in monitoring the virus in our state. Currently Morse said the only known alternative strain has been the UK variant, neither the South African strain nor the Brazillian strain have been identified in the state.

Morse said virus variations are normal, and she hopes they serve as a reminder to people to do what they can to stop the spread: washing hands, maintaining social distancing, and wearing masks.