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Omicron variant arrives in Michigan. What you need to know

covid 19 vaccine
Omicron is in most Great Lakes states, but little is known about the fast-moving variant of the coronavirus. The strain has come to Michigan. (Bridge photo by Dan Welihan)

Jan. 11, 2022: Worst yet to come with omicron in Michigan, officials warn
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Jan. 5, 2022: Michigan colleges battle omicron with mandates, caution amid a better year
Jan. 4, 2022: Can at-home COVID tests be trusted with omicron? There are limits.

Michigan has become at least the 24th state with the omicron variant of the coronavirus, after it was detected in a fully vaccinated Kent County resident, state officials reported Thursday.

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The adult had a confirmed COVID-19 case on Dec. 3 but the genomic sequencing of the virus was confirmed Thursday. The resident had not gotten a booster shot, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported.

Since first discovered in South Africa in November, world health officials have scrambled to learn more about the variant, though the delta variant remains the No. 1 variant in the United States and Michigan.

Related:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported omicron in 23 other states. The variant has not been detected in Ohio or Indiana but is in all other Great Lakes states, including Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania.

Research has shown that omicron is more transmissible than the traditional strain, which could spell trouble for states like Michigan that are amid surges.

Michigan has one of the highest infection rates in the country and it has the highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations, which is canceling surgeries and other services.

 

With the threat of omicron, the United States and several countries have issued travel bans in an attempt to limit the spread of the variant.

But researchers are yet unsure whether it causes more severe illness or how much protection the current vaccines offer.

"We have tools that prevent the spread of COVID-19, including omicron. However, we continue to see that those not utilizing these tools, including vaccines, are disproportionately affected by this virus," the state’s chief medical executive, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, said in a statement. "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.

“I emphasize the importance of not waiting to get vaccinated. Now is the time," she said.

Here’s what is known:

Where was it first found?

The variant was discovered in South Africa and reported on Nov. 11. It’s been blamed for a surge of cases in southern Africa and has been found in increasing numbers throughout the region and across the globe.

Do vaccines work on it?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccines are expected to “protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths” if infected with the omicron variant. 

However, the CDC acknowledges there could be “breakthrough” cases like the one in Kent County — 75 percent of the first 43 cases in the U.S. were among fully vaccinated individuals.

Michigan’s already in a surge. Could this make it worse?

There is growing research that omicron will spread more easily than the original coronavirus. One study from Japan concluded it was more than four times more transmissible than the delta variant. The CDC did say, however, that it expects “that anyone with omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.” 

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Does it make you sicker?

Omicron has been on the radar for less than a month and researchers do not yet know. Of the 43 cases detected in the United States, one had been hospitalized, the head of the CDC said Thursday and most were only mildly ill, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Will existing treatments work?

Doctors are using an array of treatments to help COVID-19 patients, like monoclonal antibodies. 

The CDC said researchers are working to figure out if those treatments will work but said the changes in omicron variant’s genetics may make some treatments less effective while others should continue to help.

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