State of Michigan health officials announced the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 omicron variant in Michigan Thursday. The individual who tested positive, a Kent County resident, is fully vaccinated but has not received a booster dose of the vaccine. The individual first tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 3; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then identified the case as the omicron variant on Dec. 9.
On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization identified the omicron variant as a new strain of the COVID-19 virus and classified it as a variant of concern. Four days later, the CDC also recognized omicron as a variant of concern in the U.S. specifically. As of Friday, the omicron variant has been identified in 25 other states in the U.S., as well as 57 countries.
In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, Dr. Marschall Runge, dean of the University of Michigan Medical School and CEO of Michigan Medicine, expressed concern regarding the possibility of an outbreak in the state following the confirmed case in Kent County.
“Not a lot is known about the omicron variant, except that it may be very fast spreading,” said Runge. “The teams at Michigan Medicine are concerned … We’re anxious about increasing cases with holiday gatherings coming up, particularly if unvaccinated individuals are attending.”
As the omicron variant continues to spread around the world, scientists are rapidly working to learn more about the rate of transmission, the severity of the symptoms and how effective current COVID-19 vaccines are against it.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, said early evidence suggests the omicron variant appears to be more contagious than the delta variant — the predominant strain of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. as of August 2021. However, Fauci explained the ratio of hospitalizations to the number of positive omicron cases suggests the omicron variant symptoms might be milder than other strains.
“Real-world evidence is accumulating rapidly, literally on a daily basis, to allow us to determine increase in cases, possible increase in reproductive number, and the rapid replacement of delta by omicron in certain situations,” Fauci told the Detroit Free Press.
Though there is still uncertainty about what the arrival of the omicron variant might mean for Michigan, health officials are optimistic that COVID-19 vaccines will help mitigate the spread, as those not taking advantage of vaccine opportunities are much more affected by the virus. According to a statement from Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the State of Michigan’s chief medical executive, vaccines remain the best way to fight all variants of COVID-19.
“The data is clear that these vaccines are extremely safe and effective, and the side effects of COVID-19 are much worse than receiving a vaccine,” Bagdasarian said. “I emphasize the importance of not waiting to get vaccinated. Now is the time.”
Daily News Editor Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.