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First Omicron variant detected in Kent County Vaccination, masking and social distancing strongly encouraged to help slow spread


CONTACT: Chelsea Wuth, 517-241-2112

LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Kent County Health Department have been notified of a case of the Omicron variant in a Kent County resident.

"We are concerned, although not surprised, about the discovery of the Omicron variant in Michigan," said Elizabeth Hertel, MDHHS director. "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 Omicron variant, B.1.1.529, was classified as a Variant of Concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Nov. 30. Variants are classified as variants of concern if they show evidence of being more contagious, causing more severe illness or resistance to diagnostics, treatments or vaccines.

"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," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive. "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."

The initial detection of the COVID-19 case was reported to the Michigan Disease Surveillance System on Dec. 3. MDHHS was notified by CDC that it was the Omicron variant on Dec. 9 following genetic sequencing. The sequencing was conducted and reported by a commercial laboratory as part of the CDC surveillance program. 

MDHHS is coordinating with the Kent County Health Department on investigation of the case which is ongoing. Public health follow-up will include an assessment of the potential for out of state exposure, compliance with isolation guidance and outreach to close contacts. Vaccine records indicate the Kent County adult was fully vaccinated but had not received a booster dose.

"The identification of the Omicron variant is not unexpected," says Dr. Adam London, Kent County Health Department Director. "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 on Nov. 11 in South Africa and the first case was confirmed in the United States on Dec. 1. Michigan joins the list of more than 20 other states with confirmed Omicron detections.

According to CDC, the Omicron variant will likely spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. How easily Omicron spreads compared to the Delta variant remains unknown. CDC expects that anyone with the Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don't have symptoms. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death and are expected to do the same against Omicron. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of primary vaccinations and boosters.

There are several factors contributing to current case rates. However, according to state data, unvaccinated persons have 4.4 times the risk of testing positive for covid-19 and 9.3 times the risk of dying from covid-19 than people who are fully vaccinated. 

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. MDHHS' Bureau of Laboratories is a national leader in whole genome sequencing for SARS-CoV-2.  and will continue to monitor for variants of concern.

Whole genome sequencing allows scientists to examine the genetic material of pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2. During the pandemic, laboratories across Michigan have been submitting samples to the state public health laboratory for surveillance to help monitor the emergence of any variants of concern. MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories prioritizes additional specimens for whole genome sequencing when there is increased concern for a new variant of the virus, such as in people with a travel history to places where the variant is known to be circulating.

Public health recommends that those testing positive for COVID-19 isolate for 10 days after symptom onset.  Cases are encouraged to notify their contacts of their potential exposure and their potential need to quarantine following CDC guidance. CDC defines a close contact as an individual who was within six feet of a confirmed case for more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. Public health will prioritize outreach to Omicron cases and their contacts.

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