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Stateside Podcast: What’s on the COVID horizon?

Dr. Eisenberg talks analyzing COVID numbers, the BA.2 sub-variant, and more.
JC Gellidon
Dr. Eisenberg talks analyzing COVID numbers, the BA.2 sub-variant, and more.

As COVID numbers across the country decline, many Michiganders may be wondering: is this another dip in the pandemic’s ebb and flow—or a long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel?

The answer is complicated, according to Dr. Marisa Eisenberg, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.

Starting next week, the state health department will report COVID case counts on a weekly basis instead of three times a week, and that report will include both known and probable COVID cases. Eisenberg said it makes sense that how we look at the numbers is changing at this point in the pandemic.

“The kind of way to interpret cases is shifting as … people are doing more at-home testing and, you know, that kind of thing. But still, it's one of our earliest leading indicators for kind of what the trends are. Of course, you know, it's also really important to be watching hospitalizations. That's often kind of our marker of the real impact of COVID.”

She added that other metrics such as wastewater monitoring are important to keep an eye on as well.

Since the omicron surge subsided, infection rates in Michigan have been declining and now seem to be at a plateau. But as the BA.2 strain of COVID becomes the dominant variant in much of the U.S., Eisenberg and other public health experts in the state are looking at the possibility of yet another surge. BA.2, informally known as “stealth COVID,” is a sub-variant of omicron that has been popping up in Europe.

“So, it's more transmissible than BA.1, the regular omicron that we already had a surge of, but it's similar in severity,” she explained. “I think, you know, a lot of us have been watching the situation in Europe and really thinking about whether we're likely to see another wave here in Michigan, given that … the decline in cases is starting to slow and kind of starting to plateau.”

Whether or not BA.2 will bring another COVID surge to the U.S., Eisenberg said should become apparent in the next couple of weeks.

Dr. Eisenberg also addressed the prospect of an endemic COVID state. She said that while we will eventually get to a stage of COVID endemicity, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that COVID is no longer a threat to the public.

“We will reach a state where we have endemic COVID, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it'll be low, right? It will have a seasonal pattern that right now is looking like, you know, winter surges and summer lows. But it doesn't necessarily mean that it will be a low, you know, sort of case rate level or that it won't be severe or things like that.”

She advocated for vaccines and boosters as a way to work towards an endemic stage, as well as to protect both yourself and others around you from the most serious consequences of infection.

“I think you can see the impact of that of communities where people have all gotten vaccinated. They are seeing more protection when it comes to more severe outcomes like hospitalizations and deaths.”

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
Lucas is a senior at Michigan State University studying professional and public writing. He has previously worked as a co-director of editing for VIM, an MSU fashion magazine. An aspiring music journalist, Lucas dreams of getting paid to go to concerts. He is also a screenwriter. When he’s not working, he can be found walking around aimlessly, listening to either punk rock or Kacey Musgraves.