Omicron variant cases detected in Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw counties

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Detroit Free Press
Dec. 17, 2021
Christina Hall and Kristen Jordan Shamus 

The omicron coronavirus variant has been identified in metro Detroit, with one case each reported Friday in Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw counties, state health department leaders said.

That brings Michigan up to six confirmed, known cases of the variant detected through genetic sequencing of test samples. Two residents of Genesee County and one from Kent County were announced earlier this month.

Although Michigan has six known cases of the the omicron variant – the most contagious strain of the virus yet — its prevalence is likely far higher because only a small percentage of tests undergo genetic sequencing, a process that can take a week or more to complete.

While omicron’s fast spread is concerning, Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said now is not the time to panic.

“Unlike last winter, we now have the power to protect ourselves,” he said.

“Our vaccines work against omicron, especially for people who get booster shots when they are eligible. If you are vaccinated, you could test positive. But if you do get COVID, your case will likely be asymptomatic or mild. We are intent on not letting omicron disrupt work in school for the vaccinated. You’ve done the right thing and we will get through this.

“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm. So our message to every American is clear: There is action you can take to protect yourself and your family. Wear a mask in public indoor settings. Get vaccinated. Get your kids vaccinated and get a booster shot when you’re eligible.”

Although the strain was estimated earlier this week to make up about 3% of coronavirus cases in the country, its prevalence is doubling every two days, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At that level of growth, omicron could be the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. before the new year or in early January.

Michigan hospital leaders have expressed concern about what a surge in omicron cases could mean as they’re already confronted with high rates of hospitalization from the delta variant of COVID-19 and other diseases.

On Friday, 4,217 adults and children were hospitalized in Michigan with confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to state health department data. About 85.4% of the intensive care unit beds statewide were full and 645 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

Americans ages 16 and older are eligible for boosters if they got the second dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.

Those who are unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalized from a COVID-19 infection and 14 times more likely to die from the virus compared with someone who’s vaccinated, Zients said.

The first known case of the omicron variant was detected Dec. 9 in a Kent County resident who was fully vaccinated but had not received a booster dose, state health officials said. The person initially tested positive Dec. 3 for the virus.

The test sample underwent genetic sequencing and wasn’t until Dec. 9 that notification came from the CDC confirming that sequencing had identified it as the omicron variant.

On Wednesday, two more cases were identified in Genesee County among fully vaccinated residents who initially tested positive for coronavirus Dec. 1 and Dec. 2.

Both Genesee County residents had cases associated with domestic travel and neither was hospitalized. Local health officials said they have conducted contact tracing and case investigation.

Scientists are still learning about the severity of the disease caused by the omicron variant, though evidence so far suggests two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines don’t offer as much protection from the strain as three doses.

“With regard to the seriousness of infection, really, it’s still up in the air right now because there are a lot of confounding issues,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief adviser to the president.

“Certainly, looking at what we see, it does not look like it is more severe. But we have to withhold judgment about the severity. … We don’t have enough information on omicron with regards long COVID. I would not expect it’s going to be any different than we have with delta but we’ll have to wait to see until we get more experience.”

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