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State predicts COVID cases will double soon due to BA.2

A COVID-19 at-home test.

Michigan health officials are projecting COVID-19 cases in the state will roughly double in late April through early May, thanks to the spread of the omicron subvariant BA.2. But that’s still a relatively modest uptick, given how low case rates have dropped, and isn’t expected to be anything like the previous omicron or delta surges. Nor are they expecting a major increase in COVID-related deaths or hospitalizations this time around.

“Right now, we're dealing with a subvariant that is somewhat more transmissible, but that does not seem to be more severe, causing more mortality,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive. “It's not a subvariant that is refractory to therapeutics, or that is completely evading prior immunity or vaccination. And so, based on all of those constraints, what we're anticipating [appears] to be a slight uptick, without some of those really severe consequences.”

Of course, future variants could still have the potential to cause more dire consequences, Bagdasarian said. But these projections are based on the BA.2 transmission rates the United Kingdom has seen so far, which are about 30% higher than the first omicron subvariant. And although reinfections are possible even if you’ve had the BA.1 variant, it looks like Michigan’s vaccination rates and prior infections should blunt the impact of the new variant.

“We had a massive delta and omicron surge back to back, and we do feel that there is likely some protection there…that is still lasting,” Bagdasarian said. “And when we look at our vaccination rates, we've had the greatest vaccine uptake in our older age groups. And so that's very protective in terms of mortality.”

But less than 50% of eligible kids in Michigan have completed their initial vaccination series.

“And if we look at communities of color, it can be even lower. It can be as low as 10%,” Bagdasarian said. “And so we really need to think about this holistically now as an issue of equity and health equity.”

The state health department is trying to connect to pediatricians who’ll see kids during well-child visits this summer and before school, when parents would come in to get other routine vaccinations. That’s because they’ve learned many parents don’t want their kid to get the COVID vaccine at a pharmacy or another community site.

“They want it done with a health care provider who knows them, who knows their children and their families. So we need to work on ways to make that happen. We need to work on communication for those who are still on the fence. We need to do more targeted communication and use more trusted messengers in a variety of communities…But it's not only an issue of younger folks not getting vaccinated, it's an issue of there being communities around the state where vaccine uptake is low and those communities are now going to be less vulnerable for the next surge.”

Even for adults or people with kids who are already vaccinated, it’s still a good time to make a plan, she says: do you have COVID tests at home if you or a family member gets exposed? Have you been vaccinated and boosted, and if you’re over 50, have you considered getting the second booster? Have you talked with a medical professional about whether you’d be eligible for COVID treatments and therapeutics if you did contract the virus?

“COVID is not going away,” Bagdasarian said. “This is not going to be the last variant. This is not going to be the last uptick in cases. So it's really about making sure that you and your loved ones have a plan for COVID, the same way that we talk about making sure that you have a smoke detector in your house and the batteries are up to date.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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