The omicron effect? New daily COVID-19 cases smash record in Michigan – Detroit Free Press

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Here’s the latest for Tuesday, December 28: CDC recommends shorter COVID isolation, quarantine; Omicron disrupt air travel for 5th consecutive day; Judge prods Maxwell jury to work longer hours; Russia artist uses manure to sculpt tiger family

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Michigan broke a new coronavirus record this week as the state health department reported a two-day total of 25,858 confirmed cases — an average of 12,929 per day.

The previous single-day high was 9,779 cases set on Nov. 20, 2020, according to a Free Press analysis of state data. 

The sharp rise is likely driven by the highly contagious omicron variant — the most transmissible strain of the virus yet, said Dr. Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology and global public health at University of Michigan, who also is acting chairman of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. 

“It’s taking off everywhere,” Monto said, “and I’m sure it’s taking off here. It may well just replace delta. … This is a variant that transmits better but it looks like, fortunately, it doesn’t cause more severe disease.”

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 59% of newly confirmed coronavirus cases nationally as of Dec. 25 were the omicron variant, though state health officials say it’s hard to get an accurate real-time measurement of how widespread the variant is in Michigan. 

“The CDC’s tracking tool is based upon a modeling approach,” said Chelsea Wuth, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “So we have confirmatory data … and the models may be correct, but it will take a bit of time to know based on real-world sequencing.”

For now, state health officials believe the delta strain of the virus is still dominant, but Wuth said “the omicron variant underscores the importance of Michiganders practicing COVID mitigation factors,” which include getting coronavirus vaccines, including a booster dose if you’re eligible, wearing masks in indoor public spaces and avoiding large gatherings. 

Many health leaders expected to see a rise in cases from holiday get-togethers, but this rapid uptick is likely also fueled by the omicron effect, said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, director of infection control and prevention at the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System.

“When you look at other countries where omicron was first detected, it pushed delta to the side. I believe that is what’s happening here as well,” he said. “We were at a steady state with delta and now that it’s climbing, I think in all likelihood it is omicron.”

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The spike in cases isn’t the only indication that transmission of the virus is ramping up in Michigan.

The percentage of positive tests climbed above 28% on Tuesday — the highest point since April 2020, the state health department reported.

At Henry Ford’s in-house laboratory, 41% of people who were tested this week got positive results. That’s a pandemic record, Cunningham said. 

And COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising, too, after a small decline the last two weeks. 

On Wednesday, 3,727 Michiganders were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of them:

  • 797 were being treated in intensive care units 
  • 547 were on ventilators
  • 68 were children

Hospitals, Cunningham said, are still busy from the ongoing delta variant surge.

“Our team members are all very tired and working hard, lots of hours,” Cunningham said. “We will keep doing what we need to do to take care of our patients but our hospitals are busy, and when people come to the hospital or the emergency room, please just be patient. We’re working as hard as we can.”

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The hope, Monto said, is that the omicron variant won’t cause as severe disease as the delta strain did. Early studies suggest that could be true. But with how easily omicron spreads, there still will likely be another hospitalization surge. 

“Even if it’s milder, it’s still COVID and a percentage of people — especially unvaccinated, high-risk people — are going to get hospitalized,” Monto said. “With more infections, even if it’s milder, it’s going to be picking out some people and putting them in the hospital.

“The good news that being highly transmissible means it goes through the population quicker.”

Monto predicted any surge driven by omicron would likely last four to six weeks — a much shorter wave of illness than the months of steady increases Michigan has seen with the fourth delta surge. 

As more people take at-home rapid antigen tests, it becomes more important than ever to report positive results to local health departments, said Dr. Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer for Traverse City-based Munson Healthcare.

Reporting it allows public health officials to better track the spread of the virus in the community, and it also can help on a personal level, Nefcy said. 

“If you just took one and never reported it, you’re going to have a much harder time linking that from an insurance perspective or anything like that,” Nefcy said.  

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As the pandemic stretches into yet another new year, state health leaders released new data Wednesday that reveals the grim toll the virus took on Michigan in 2021, reporting:

  • Nearly 1 in every 10 Michiganders had a confirmed case of the virus — enough cases to fill the Big House eight times. 
  • Nearly 1 in 100 Michiganders were hospitalized with COVID-19, which means a person every seven minutes was admitted to a Michigan hospital with the virus. 
  • More than 1 in 1,000 residents of the state died from the virus — bringing the total death toll from COVID-19 to nearly 27,000 people since March 2020. 

Wuth urged people to get vaccinated. 

“As more individuals are vaccinated, it is less likely that the virus will circulate and mutate, avoiding the development of more transmissible and vaccine-resistant variants in the future,” she said. 

As of Wednesday, 56.7% of Michigan’s total population was fully vaccinated and 41.1% of the fully vaccinated residents had gotten a booster dose, according to the CDC.  

Contact Kristen Shamus: kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus. 

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