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Presence of COVID-19 variant a cause for concern in the UP

These past couple of weeks, we have been blessed with what seems to be an early wave of spring — but it has been accompanied with another cause for concern.

Additional cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant have been confirmed in Marquette County by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Laboratories’ whole genomic sequencing, causing alarm among health officials.

The new evidence, according to the Marquette County Health Department, confirms that widespread community transmission is likely.

Dr. Bob Lorinser, MCHD medical director, said there have been three confirmed variant cases in the county.

“Once you have that, it’s game over,” he said.

The B.1.1.7 variant is a concern because of 50% increased transmission, likely increased severity based on hospitalizations and case fatality rates, and minimal impact on neutralization by monoclonal antibody therapeutics.

Lorinser stressed that current COVID-19 vaccines so far are effective against variants.

We must be mindful of the events of 2020, and just how easily they can repeat themselves if we don’t remain vigilant in our efforts to curb the virus. Of course, that does not mean we can’t get out of the house and enjoy the nice weather. It must be understood that making smart choices and doing our part now may lead to actually being able to enjoy events and company this summer and fall. We have to recognize that the race against this virus is not yet over.

The rates of COVID-19 infection in the county have increased 151% from the average case rate two weeks ago, the MCHD reported. It also indicated a strong possibility that Marquette County could be entering a new and accelerated wave of increased COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that she’s worried the US could see “another avoidable surge” of COVID-19 if mitigation measures — such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and avoiding crowds or travel — are not followed, according to an article by CNN.

“As I’ve stated before, the continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation,” Walensky said at a White House briefing.

The MCHD has listed recommendations for people to protect themselves:

• Get your COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

• Continue appropriate masking, social distancing and hand hygiene.

• If experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, stay home, isolate and get tested regardless of how minimal the illness, previous COVID illness and/or vaccination.

• Notify the health department and close contacts.

• If you are a close contact, follow the quarantine guidance.

Vaccination is available to any individual age 16 and older. Registration is available through a link provided at mqthealth.org.

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