Michigan identifies two more cases of omicron variant of COVID-19

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan's health department has identified two more cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the state, bringing the total to three cases, officials said Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had identified two additional omicron cases in Genesee County, said Lynn Sutfin, the health department's spokeswoman. There were no other details immediately available about the cases.

Michigan has three cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19, a mutation first identified in South Africa on Nov. 25, 2021. This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Michigan's first case of the omicron variant was detected last Thursday in a fully vaccinated Kent County resident more than a week after the variant was first reported in the United States on Dec. 1. 

The west Michigan patient tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 3, and genomic sequencing confirmed it was the highly contagious omicron variant and was reported to the state, according to a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Vaccine records indicate the Kent County adult was fully vaccinated but had not received a booster dose, according to the state health department's release.

Michigan last week became at least the 22nd state to report the variant. Omicron was named and designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26, about two weeks after it was first detected in Botswana and South Africa.

"We are concerned, although not surprised, about the discovery of the omicron variant in Michigan," Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement last week.

"We continue to urge Michiganders ages 5 and up to get vaccinated and continue participating in measures we know slow the spread of the virus by wearing well-fitting masks properly, socially distancing, avoiding crowds, washing their hands often and testing for COVID-19. Vaccines are our best defense against the virus and how we can manage the spread of COVID-19."  

The detection of the new variant in Michigan came as the state is grappling with a spike in COVID-19 cases that's testing the capacity of hospitals.

The surge in delta variant cases is still the most overwhelming factor that Michigan is facing. But public health experts have worried that the more contagious omicron could cause the state's current surge in COVID cases to continue as it spreads. 

Based on specimens collected last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said omicron accounted for about 3% of genetically-sequenced coronaviruses nationally. Percentages vary by region, with the highest – 13% – in the New York/New Jersey area. But Harvard experts said these are likely underestimates because omicron is moving so fast that surveillance attempts can’t keep up.

Scientists around the world are racing to understand omicron, which has a large number of worrisome mutations in important regions of its genetic structure that could affect how well it spreads from person to person. How quickly the number of cases doubles, known as “doubling time,” can give a preview of what the disease burden could be in a few weeks.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that early data suggests omicron is more transmissible than delta, with a doubling time of about two days.

In Britain, where omicron cases are doubling every two to three days, the variant is expected to soon replace delta as the dominant strain in the country.

The Associated Press contributed.