First Michigan omicron COVID-19 variant detected: What you need to know

omicron, such as how easily it spreads, whether it causes more severe disease and how well people are protected by the current vaccines. 

“Not a lot is known about the omicron variant, except that it may be very fast spreading,” said Dr. Marschall Runge, dean of the University of Michigan Medical School and CEO of Michigan Medicine. “The teams at Michigan Medicine are concerned. … We’re anxious about increasing cases with holiday gatherings coming up, particularly if unvaccinated individuals are attending.” 

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What is the omicron variant?

This new strain of coronavirus has an unprecedented number of mutations — as many as 32 to the spike protein alone, the World Health Organization reports. The changes have some scientists concerned omicron may be more easily spread than other variants and could be more likely to cause re-infections among people who’ve had a different strain of the virus.

The first known and confirmed omicron case was detected in early November in test specimens in South Africa and Botswana. Since then, it has spread quickly around the world. 

On Nov. 26, the WHO gave the B.1.1.529 variant the name omicron, classifying it as a variant of concern. Four days later, the U.S. also recognized omicron as a variant of concern.  

Where has omicron been detected in the U.S.?

In addition to Michigan, the variant had been identified in 23 other states as of Thursday  — Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to the CDC. 

It’s also spreading in dozens of other countries.

“State and local public health authorities, in collaboration with the CDC, are actively investigating confirmed and possible cases, conducting contact tracing, and implementing prevention strategies to help slow the spread of this new variant,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. 

The variant may have spread during the Anime New York City Convention, where 53,000 people gathered Nov. 19-21. 

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“CDC … has now contacted all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., and 27 other countries with residents who attended, to inform them of this ongoing investigation,” Walensky said. “Of the reported 53,000 people who attended that conference, more than 35,000 and counting have been contacted to encourage testing for all attendees.