Delta variant slowly increasing in Michigan as doctors stress importance of vaccine

Michigan has not yet been hit with a substantial wave of COVID-19 cases linked to the new, more infectious delta variant.

As of July 20, Michigan health officials have found 71 cases of coronavirus infection involving the delta variant, also known as strain B.1.617.2, across 21 counties. That’s an increase of 17 cases and five counties from the week prior.

Over the last four weeks, the latest variant of concern has made up 2.4% of Michigan’s variants of concern. For comparison, the alpha strain (B.1.1.7) has accounted for 93.7% of sequenced specimen, and the Gamma strain (P.1) has accounted for 3.3%.

But doctors are keeping an eye on what’s going on nationwide, as the variant initially discovered in India now makes up 83% of new U.S. coronavirus cases. They’re particularly concerned about the potential risk to the unvaccinated population if the delta variant does become rampant in Michigan.

“While our hospitalization rate continues to be the lowest for the past, compared to what we’ve seen in the past 18 months, we are definitely keeping an eye and concerned about what we are seeing around the nation with respect to the highly contagious delta variant,” said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Henry Ford Health System.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the delta variant has a transmission rate more than 50% higher than the initial strain of coronavirus that hit the U.S. last spring. For unvaccinated residents especially, the variant doubles the likelihood of needing to be hospitalized if infected.

Additionally, it has shown reduced susceptibility to antibody treatment, and has been linked to increased hospitalizations and deaths.

“This is something we’re definitely watching very closely with respect to our COVID numbers,” Munkarah said. “What is most important is 97% of people being hospitalized at the present time are unvaccinated.”

Additionally, Munkarah said Henry Ford Health System hasn’t had a vaccinated patient admitted to the ICU with COVID-19, and 99.5% of people dying from COVID-19 at this point are unvaccinated, “again providing definitive data and science that vaccines protect people from dying.”

Related: Two Genesee County residents test positive for Delta COVID-19 variant

Elsewhere in the U.S., the delta variant is becoming more present, leading some communities like Los Angeles County and Las Vegas to bring back indoor mask mandates for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.

While Michigan isn’t yet on that path -- the state has the sixth-fewest new weekly cases per 100,000 people -- it could find itself undergoing another surge if the delta variant were to hit its communities with lower vaccination rates. Recent mobility data from the University of Michigan indicates that mobility levels are similar to states seeing high levels of community spread.

To limit the potential harm of another surge, Munkarah said it’s paramount that residents get vaccinated and protect not only themselves, but those around them as well. He noted multiple studies published in medical journals that have found the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines continue to prove effective against all known variants, including the delta strain.

Vaccines are widely available in Michigan and health officials standby their safety and effectiveness at preventing serious illness from coronavirus. To find a vaccine near you, visit Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccine website.

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