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Michigan identifies first case of P.1 coronavirus variant

National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Laboratory

Michigan has its first known case of the P.1 variant of the novel coronavirus. The state Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that the virus was identified in a sample from a Bay County resident.

The P.1 variant first started circulating in Brazil early this year. The federal Centers for Disease Control says it's likely more contagious and less susceptible to antibodies or vaccines than the original strain of the virus.

Joel Strasz, the health officer for Bay County, said while this is the first case of the P.1 variant identified in Michigan, he’s sure it’s not the first time the strain has infected someone in the state.

The person who tested positive for the variant has no known history of travel, meaning that the strain has likely already been circulating in the community. “The variant is established here,” Strasz said.

That person has recovered from infection and has no lasting symptoms, said Strasz. He said the person came down with symptoms on March 12 and tested positive for the coronavirus on March 17. A sample was submitted for sequencing, and the variant result came back about two weeks later.

“We’re all working diligently to speed up that process,” Strasz said.

Michigan has already recorded more than 1,000 cases of other coronavirus variants, according to the CDC. Strasz said the growing prevalence of those strains, which are likely more contagious than the virus was initially, heightens the importance of vaccination efforts.

“The vaccines do appear to work,” he said. As the number of people over 65 who are vaccinated has grown, he said, “what we’re seeing here in Bay County and throughout the state is, the numbers of seniors and older residents that are being confirmed positive cases has actually substantially dropped off.”

But he said cases are spreading overall -- Michigan rose to the top of the national list of states ranked by new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the last week -- and people are celebrating the success of vaccines too early.

“There seems to be this level of thinking that is, ‘Well, the vaccines are out here. This thing is pretty much over. We can go back to life as normal,’” Strasz said. “Well, we’re not quite done with the virus yet, and if we’re not careful, we’re going to be in this situation for a while.”

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.
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