New COVID variants rising in Michigan, along with hospitalizations
The latest offshoots of the omicron variant — blamed for rising COVID-19 cases in Europe and in parts of the United States — have been detected in growing numbers in Michigan and are likely causing an increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
The proportion of all confirmed COVID-19 cases caused by the variants BA.4 and BA.5 is rising across the country and Michigan public health experts say they are increasing in the state as well.
Combined the two make up over 70 percent of new cases in the Midwest and the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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“It does feel like a slight increase,” said Dr. Nirali Bora, medical director of the Kent County Health Department.
Among the recent changes:
- Hospitalizations in Michigan have risen over the past 10 days and are at their highest point in three weeks, with 837 COVID-19-positive patients on Wednesday and 830 on Friday, the highest since 851 were reported June 17.
- Statewide, the CDC now lists 15 of Michigan’s 83 counties as “medium” risk for spread, up from 14 last week.
- The percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive rose this week, from 12.5 percent to 15.5 percent.
- The state’s latest update on trends reported this week that the state had stopped seeing a decline in the spread of cases. Case numbers had fallen for five consecutive weeks until they increased a week ago.
What remains unclear is whether the appearance of the new variants, especially BA.5, considered the most transmissible variant yet, will trigger a sustained increase — and whether a pandemic-weary public would be willing to change its behavior if there is a new spike.
“I know it’s hard to get people to care,” Bora said.
In the restaurant and bar business, recent changes in case counts — up in April and May, down in June, now up a bit — have not caused a noticeable change in business, said Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association and owner of MichiGrain Distillery in Lansing.
“I think overall business is coming back, the people are coming back,” Ellis said. Retailers across the state are saying their bars and restaurants are packed, he said.
The BA.4 and BA.5 variants of omicron are driving a spike in new COVID-19 cases in Europe, where cases have jumped over 70 percent in the last two weeks.
Both variants have proven capable of getting past immunity protections gained from previous infections and vaccines. The good news is the two, like previous omicron variants, have led to fewer severe illnesses.
About 10 percent of current Michigan COVID-19 hospitalized patients are being treated in intensive care units, state data shows. That’s far fewer than the 15 to 20 percent of COVID-19 patients during the initial omicron surge in December and January and a fraction of the nearly 30 percent of COVID-19 patients who were in the ICU when the delta variant was most dominant last fall.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has made clear for months it is not contemplating any statewide safety orders in response to surges, leaning heavily on vaccinations that over 5.7 million residents have received since December 2020 and new therapeutic treatment drugs like Pfizer's Paxlovid and Merck's molnupiravir, that have proven effective in preventing serious illness if taken soon after the first symptoms appear.
“We continue to tell Michigan residents to make a COVID-19 plan: get vaccinated, keep a supply of tests and well-fitting masks, and learn if you are eligible for therapeutics,” said Chelsea Wuth, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
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