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Yes, there's another COVID wave in Michigan. But is this one different?

A COVID-19 at-home test.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in Michigan, and this time case numbers aren’t a very good indicator of of the spread.

Those numbers are rising, but University of Michigan virologist and infectious disease physician Dr. Adam Lauring says that due to the prevalence of rapid home tests, there are likely many more cases than reported. One indicator is the statewide test positivity rate, which is now averaging above 16%.

“I think it's clear that there's a lot more COVID out there. There's a lot more transmission than we probably realize,” Lauring said. “And it's all consistent with a surge that’s ongoing.”

Lauring said that omicron and its sub-variants, including the highly-infectious BA.2 strain, are now almost exclusively the forms of the virus circulating nationwide and in Michigan. He said it’s not clear whether this is the end stage of the pandemic portion of COVID-19—but for now, that doesn’t really matter.

“I think the message is to be careful, do what you can to reduce spread, get boosted, wear a mask,” Lauring said, “and we'll probably be in this for a while where we kind of turn things on and off.”

Lauring said possible a silver lining is that while COVID hospitalizations are up, they’re not rising nearly as fast as in prior surges. Currently, there are 877 adult inpatients in Michigan hospitals with confirmed COVID, far less than in prior surges. “I was working in a hospital then. I'm working in the hospital now. It doesn't feel the same,” Lauring said.

Still, it’s far from certain how this wave will play out. In a statement, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services did not use the word “surge,” but said that, “The increases we are seeing in cases and hospitalizations are not unexpected as the BA.2 sublineage of omicron has shown to be more transmissible.”

The statement continues: “What happens next depends on severity of cases during this uptick and who is getting infected. If cases are among those who are unvaccinated and/or older or who have other health issues, then we could see additional hospitalizations. If cases are among those who are vaccinated, or previously infected, or generally younger/healthier, it’s possible hospitalizations and deaths will not be as dramatic of an increase as what we saw during the winter delta/omicron surge.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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