First case of omicron variant confirmed in Michigan as hospitals fill up from COVID-19 cases

click to enlarge A 3D rendering of the Omicron variant. - Shutterstock
A 3D rendering of the Omicron variant.

The omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has hit Michigan.

The state’s first case was detected in a person in Kent County, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday evening.

"We are concerned, although not surprised, about the discovery of the omicron variant in Michigan," MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement. "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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified omicron as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 30. The classifications are made amid concerns about variants being more contagious, causing more severe illness or showing resistance to vaccines or treatments.

A lot is still not known about the variant, but the CDC said it likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Michigan health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated to slow the spread of variants.

“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,” Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive, said. “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.”

Between Oct. 21 and Nov. 19, the last 30 days of complete data, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 71% of the new COVID-19 infections, 72% of the hospitalizations, and 76% of the deaths, according to MDHHS. Unvaccinated people are 4.4 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 9.3 times more likely to die, the data show.

In the Kent County case, the infected person is fully vaccinated but had not received a booster dose, health officials said.

MDHHS is working with the Kent County Health Department to investigate the case.

“The identification of the Omicron variant is not unexpected,” Dr. Adam London, Kent County Health Department director, said. “We are fortunate that we have effective, safe and available vaccines that can protect us from this illness. We continue to urge people to get their vaccine and to get their boosters as soon as they are eligible.”

The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 11. The first U.S. case was confirmed on Dec. 1.

More than 20 states now have a confirmed case.

Meanwhile, health officials said Friday that the state is running out of ventilators to treat serious COVID-19 cases, The Detroit News reports.

“The situation in our state is critical right now," Bagdasarian said. "Cases are surging. Hospitals are full. And we have a new variant."

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