'Stealth omicron' cases starting to add up in Metro Detroit, Washtenaw County

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Cases of the BA.2 omicron subvariant, known as "stealth omicron," first detected in Michigan in mid-January, are starting to add up in Metro Detroit and Washtenaw County.

Ninety-nine cases have been detected in 21 Michigan counties and the city of Detroit, state health officials said on Saturday.

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Wayne County leads the state with 19 cases, followed by Oakland and Washtenaw counties with 15 cases each, and Macomb County with 13. 

Other counties with one or more cases are Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Houghton, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Leelanau, Livingston, Marquette, Midland, Monroe, Oceana, Ottawa, Saginaw and St Clair.

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Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said sequencing being done at the department's Bureau of Laboratories and at commercial and academic laboratories identified the subvariant in Michigan.

The first three cases were detected the week ending Jan. 15. The number of cases hit double digits with 10 the week ending Jan. 29 and have remained at that level.

The most cases, 22, were reported the week ending March 5. Cases fell to 11 the week ending March 12. 

"We continue to monitor for COVID-19 variants of concern and will update Michigan residents about any measures they should take to protect themselves from the virus as needed," Sutfin said in an email to The News.

"We continue to urge all Michiganders ages 5 and older to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine or to be boosted if eligible. The vaccine continues to be our best defense against the virus," she said.

Tiffani Jackson, spokeswoman for Wayne County, said officials have seen some cases across the county.

"And we’ve been closely monitoring the community transmission. This mirrors what’s being experienced across the country," Jackson said.

The American Medical Association website says the subvariant BA.2 has been referred to as “stealth” omicron because it has genetic mutations that could make it harder to distinguish from the delta variant using PCR tests as compared to the original version of omicron.

The Washington Post reported this week that a surge in coronavirus infections in Western Europe has experts and health authorities on alert for another wave of the pandemic in the United States.

The Post reported that infectious-disease experts are closely watching the subvariant of omicron known as BA.2, which appears to be more transmissible than the original strain, BA.1, and is fueling the outbreak overseas.

In all, about a dozen nations are seeing spikes in coronavirus infections caused by BA.2, a cousin of the BA.1 form of the virus that tore through the United States over the past three months, The Post reported.

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In Michigan, COVID-19 hospitalization rates and case counts have been on the decline for the last nine weeks, indicating to some health experts that the fourth surge is subsiding as predicted.

On Friday, Michigan added 2,770 cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths from the virus, including totals from Thursday.

Friday's additions bring the state's overall total to 2,071,587 confirmed cases and 32,611 deaths since the virus was first detected here in March 2020.