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MI labs testing for omicron variant, no cases found so far

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist prepares to test a patient’s sample for SARS-CoV-2.
James Gathany
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist prepares to test a patient’s sample for SARS-CoV-2. On Wednesday, California reported the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 omicron variant. Researchers in Michigan continue to test samples for the mutation.

Scientists at Michigan’s state laboratory in Lansing are screening COVID samples in search of the omicron variant. That’s as officials confirm the presence of the variant on the West Coast.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says it’s found no evidence of the omicron variant after sequencing more than 31,000 virus samples.

The mutation first identified in South Africa has since spurred many countries to impose strict travel measures to curb its spread.

On Wednesday, health officials in California confirmed a case of the variant in the state.

Michigan State University Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics chair Dr. Victor DiRita says COVID will continue to mutate as long as it still circulates in the population.

DiRita says the question now is how aggressive the omicron variant may be.

“We would have to concern ourselves more with whether we have a virus that’s both more transmissible and more dangerous…and right now, we don’t know the answer to that from Omicron at all,” DiRita said.

DiRita predicts that people will eventually get a COVID shot annually as they would do for the flu.

“It doesn’t mean you don’t get infected,” he said. “I always teach medical students that you don’t take the flu vaccine in order to keep from getting flu, you do so in order to keep from dying of flu. That’s going to be the same with COVID, I think.”

DiRita says the greatest risk is among people who remain unvaccinated.

Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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