Omicron spreads to more Michigan counties, including Oakland, Wayne

Michigan's health department has identified three more cases of the omicron variant in the state, bringing the total to six.

New cases were identified in Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday.

The Washtenaw case occurred in a person associated with the University of Michigan, according Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, spokeswoman for the county health department.

Details on the patient's vaccination status, travel history or association with the university were not immediately available Friday afternoon.  

"This person tested positive last week and they've been isolating at home," Ringler-Cerniglia said. "We got the results yesterday from the genomic sequencing indicating it was the Omicron variant."

Noting the detection of Omicron on the Ann Arbor campus, the University of Michigan announced Friday it is requiring all students, faculty and staff on all three U-M campuses to get a COVID-19 booster shot as one of several enhanced mitigation measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the winter 2022 academic term.

On Wednesday, the state identified two additional omicron cases in Genesee County. There were no other details available about the cases.

An additional omicron case was found on Michigan State University's campus through its on-campus testing and sequencing program, MSU spokesman Dan Olsen confirmed to The News on Friday.

The state has not yet confirmed that case as omicron, Olsen said, but he said he expected results next week. The case is "connected to the campus community," he said.

Michigan's first case of the omicron variant was detected last week 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.

"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.

An Oakland County resident tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 5 and a lab identified the strain as the Omicron variant on Dec. 16 then notified MDHHS.

A case investigation determined the resident, who was vaccinated but did not have a booster dose, had traveled internationally. The resident denied having any close contacts since returning home. MDHHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are the agencies that look into any possible exposures while traveling.

“The bad news is that Omicron is here. The good news is our main tools still work as with any variant - masking regardless of vaccine status, distance, and vaccinations including booster doses,” Health Division Medical Director Dr. Russell Faust said. “Even if Omicron is slightly resistant to immunity to other variants, increasing your immunity through vaccinations will help prevent infection, hospitalization, and death.”

“Emergence of Omicron in our area further emphasizes the importance of primary vaccinations and boosters, especially before any upcoming holiday gatherings,” Oakland County Director of Health and Human Services Leigh-Anne Stafford said. “Vaccination, masking and social distancing is strongly encouraged to help slow spread of Omicron and all COVID-19 viruses.”

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.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 CDC says more data are needed to know if Omicron infections cause more severe illness or death than other variants, especially when it comes to breakthrough cases in people who have already been vaccinated.

Staff Writer Hayley Harding and Associated Press contributed.