Should Michiganders worry about China’s latest COVID-19 surge?

Should Michiganders worry about China’s latest COVID-19 surge?

While the coronavirus situation continues to improve in Michigan, it’s getting much worse elsewhere, like in China where daily case rates are the highest they’ve been since the first months of the pandemic.

China’s case rates jumped more than five-fold during the first two weeks of March, prompting community lockdowns throughout the country in an effort to minimize viral transmission.

The surge overseas has caused some Michiganders to question whether it’s a sign of things to come back home. But local health officials say that’s unlikely, at least in the near future.

For starters, China’s latest surge is largely fueled by the omicron and “stealth omicron” variants, also known as BA.1 and BA.2, respectively.Michigan has already been hit hard by omicron, leaving a large population with varying levels of immunity.

“We’ve already been through omicron,” said Linda Vail, health officer for Ingham County. “Places like China and Hong Kong and New Zealand pretty much isolated themselves from COVID until recently. Then omicron was so transmissible that it finally got to them and they had so many people who hadn’t had infections, so they kind of got exploded on because they had been protected for so long.”

China has seen relatively few infections since spring 2020, largely due to its government’s zero-tolerance strategy, which required strict lockdowns and mandatory quarantines in order to limit coronavirus transmission. Now that the more infectious omicron has arrived, it’s easier to spread amongst a population that is about 57% vaccinated and has largely dodged previous surges.

“The lockdowns worked for a while, but as the virus becomes more transmissible, which isn’t uncommon for viruses, then yeah, you have a problem because it doesn’t take more than a few cases to spread very easily and very quickly,” Vail said.

Omicron has been the dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S. since mid-December. It played a considerable role in the surge that saw Michigan’s daily case and hospitalization rates climb to record heights in January.

Related:Fewer than 700 COVID-19 patients in Michigan hospitals as 7-day average of new cases remains at lowest level since summer

There have been a growing number of omicron BA.2 cases discovered in Michigan and throughout the U.S. But the “stealth” subvariant hasn’t worried local health officials.

Dr. Nick Gilpin, director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Southfield-based Beaumont Health, said the subvariant of omicron doesn’t seem to be getting a strong foothold against omicron, probably because it is very closely related to the predominate strain. He doesn’t believe it’s different enough from its predecessor to be a “game changer.”

“A lot of people had omicron in January and February,” Gilpin said. “So, all of those people that had omicron, even if you had relatively mild disease, you are going to have some protection. So, are you potentially vulnerable to get the BA.2? Yes. Are you going to get so sick that you’re going to end up in the hospital? Statistically unlikely.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that BA.2 accounts for about 23% of COVID cases in the U.S. as of March 12. That’s up from about 12% as of March 5, and 8% as of late February.

In Michigan’s six-state region, BA.2 makes up about 9.7% of cases compared to 90.3% of the prior omicron strain, according to the CDC estimates.

Should Michiganders worry about China’s latest COVID-19 surge?

Reinfection with BA.2 following infection with BA.1 has been documented in rare cases, according to the World Health Organization. However, initial data from population-level studies suggests that infection with BA.1 provides substantial protection from reinfection with BA.2.

Or as Vail put it, “You’re very unlikely to get re-infected with BA.2 after having BA.1 or omicron.”

Michigan is also in a better position than places like China because it has a larger population that has previously been exposed to coronavirus, and thus has developed some level of immunity.

An estimated 51% of Michigan residents have been infected with coronavirus to date, according to seroprevalence data published by the CDC. That’s higher than the national average of about 43.3%.

Separately, about 65.6% of the state’s 5 and older population has gotten vaccinated. Between the two forms of immunity, a large portion of Michiganders have some level of protection.

Over the last week, Michigan has reported 704 new cases and 44 new deaths per day from COVID. The case numbers are by far the best since early August 2021, while the deaths are the lowest since mid-November.

Additionally, test positivity is down to 3.4% after spending more than four months in double digits, and COVID hospitalizations have dipped below 730 patients after surpassing 5,000 at one point in January.

While it isn’t likely that Michigan has seen its last surge of cases, health officials consider the state in a period of post-surge recovery and hope it stays that way for the foreseeable future.

Reporter Danielle Salisbury contributed to this report.

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