Why are Michigan hospital leaders concerned about COVID-19 omicron variant?

Posted at 8:31 AM, Nov 30, 2021

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Michigan hospitals are already being hit hard by COVID-19’s delta variant. What health system leaders are learning about the omicron variant has them preparing for an extended surge of cases.

“This could cause our current surge to go much higher,” said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, Henry Ford Health System's medical director of infection prevention.

Cunningham says as of Monday morning, the Henry Ford Health System was treating 380 hospitalized patients across the system with COVID-19. He is calling on the community to take action to protect us all from what he is concerned is a looming public health threat.

“I would like to see mask wearing by everyone right now. I think that is the single most important step that we can do to stop this outbreak,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham clarified that he is not calling for mandates, but rather personal responsibility for our fellow citizens, community, hospitals and economy.

“At this point in the pandemic, personal responsibility is a really important thing,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer and a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan.

Malani co-authored an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Network in August. It explained how as viruses spread, they mutate into variants.

Most mutations don’t change how the virus functions. However, mutations in something called a spike protein, which binds to cells inside your nose, can make the virus more likely to infect you. Scientists have identified at least 32 mutations to the spike protein in omicron.

“All over the country, there is a lot of sequencing that is happening. So far, this variant has not been seen,” Malani said.

Malani says it is only a matter of time before omicron spreads in the United States.

In the state of Michigan, the University of Michigan has two contracts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working to monitor for it. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is also keeping watch.

Computer modeling indicates these mutations could make it better at reinfecting people previously infected and while it is predicted it will increase breakthrough cases in the vaccinated, doctors say vaccines should still provide significant protection.

“What people can do is what we have asked them to do all along. Get vaccinated if you haven’t gotten vaccinated. Also, go and get your booster. Boosters are now recommended for all adults. And remember getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect you, it protects everyone around you. And with holidays and travel coming up, it is more important than ever,” Malani said.

MDHHS is echoing the call for you to choose to wear masks and get vaccinated to protect your community.

“We urge all Michiganders to wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands and get tested for COVID-19 and stay home if they are feeling ill. More than 70% of Michiganders ages 16 and older have received their first dose of the safe and effective COVID-19 and we thank them for getting vaccinated to protect themselves and others, but we have further progress to make. 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,” said MDHHS in a statement.

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