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UK coronavirus variant widespread at Michigan prison, 90 cases reported

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A more transmissible and possibly deadly coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. has been identified in 90 prisoners and staff at a Michigan correctional facility, authorities say.

“Results from the daily testing of prisoners and staff at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, in Ionia, has resulted in the detection of 90 cases of the SARS-CoV-2, B.1.1.7 variant,” reads a news release sent to Fox News from Michigan State Police.

Of 95 initial samples sent for testing, 90 had the U.K. variant, 88 of which were among prisoners and two were in employees. Over 100 lab results are pending, authorities said.

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Officials say the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) began the daily testing “immediately,” as opposed to weekly testing, after an employee was found infected with the variant last week. Authorities previously said it marked “the first known case of the variant inside an MDOC facility.”

Authorities noted “additional precautions” put in place, on top of the testing, since the first variant case was discovered, but didn’t specify steps taken in the news release. 

“This variant is believed to be more contagious compared to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and as soon as it was detected in the prison, additional precautions were put in place, along with the daily testing,” reads the release.

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“Since the daily testing results have come in, the number of COVID-19 positive cases at the facility has been on the decline, which indicates the swift efforts undertaken to reduce the spread is working.”

At the national level, there have been over 1,200 cases of this variant reported across 42 states, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This figure is an underestimate, however; as of Wednesday morning, the CDC listed 67 cases of the variant in Michigan.

U.K. officials and scientists previously estimated the variant is up to 70% more transmissible than previous strains. Scientists with the British government on Friday concluded that it “is likely that infection” with the B.1.1.7 variant “is associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death compared” with other viruses, though several limitations were noted with those findings, including the number of fatalities considered “too low for reliable interference,” and that the consensus of the findings was not unanimous. 

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The recently approved vaccines are believed to remain effective against the variants, with some companies now planning variant booster shots to bolster protection amid concerning strains.

Michigan authorities advised several measures to tamp down spread of COVID-19 and the variant, like frequent hand washing, mask use, proper distance from others, indoor ventilation and receiving the vaccine when it becomes available.

Fox News’ Alexandria Hein and David Aaro contributed to this report.

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