DETROIT (WXYZ) — Late Monday night, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release that the newly discovered COVID-19 omicron variant has not yet been detected in Michigan, however the department is now actively monitoring for it.
Doctors in metro Detroit say when it's here, it will be known.
“It is not going to be a huge challenge to discover this variant," said Dr. Teena Chopra, the director of the Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases at Wayne State University. "When we see it, we will know it right away.”
The center is sending in samples and monitoring for signs of omicron in metro Detroit.
“The fact that now this variant has been seen in other countries, more and more samples are going to be tested," Chopra said. "The CDC is testing thousands and thousands of them. So is the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit.”
The variant has not yet been found in the U.S. but has been found in neighboring Ontario. Chopra says it’s unknown whether infections are any more severe, but it does spread more easily.
“The fact that it spreads quickly, replaced the original delta variant and South Africa and most of the provinces in South Africa, is very concerning,” Chopra said. “What is important at this point is to understand how does it clinically behave? Does it cause moderate or severe disease? Those are some questions we need to figure out.”
Chopra said health officials should have an answer to those questions within a week or so.
This comes as metro Detroit doctors are also treating a surge in COVID-19 patients, more than at any other point during the pandemic. On Monday, Michigan's COVID-19 hospitalization numbers reached 4,181, surpassing the previous record of 4,158 from seven months ago.
Beaumont Health’s Dearborn campus is treating more than 100 patients currently.
“Beaumont Health is very proud of our team members, our physicians, our nurses and our support staff. But they are tired,” said Mary Ellen Kochis- Rouillard, the chief nursing officer for Beaumont Health Dearborn.
On Tuesday, 23 health care workers from the Department of Defense are flying into Michigan to help the hospital. Fourteen of those workers are nurses, who will work the next 30 days in the emergency deparment
Those workers are expected to go through an on-boarding process this week before officially working their first shifts on Friday.
“I think to have the fresh perspective that help is here will really help our team members here at Beaumont Dearborn,” Kochis- Rouillard said.
The Department of Defense will also set up a command center at the hospital.
As Michigan deals with one of the highest infection rates in the country, officials continue to await the overall of omicron.
“It is a variant of concern for this reason: that it is highly contagious,” Chopra said. “The virus doesn’t know any borders. Many countries have reported this variant, so its only a matter of time before it’s in the U.S. as well.”