Michigan health officials have traced at least 66 new cases of COVID-19 to the Faster Horses music festival in Michigan a couple of weekends ago.
Some health experts have already dubbed the gathering of country music fans a potential superspreader event. But in the context of the Delta variant's rise around the country, an outbreak of new cases is increasingly worrying experts that new, more resistant variants of the coronavirus could spawn from increasing rates of infection.
Michigan is seeing an uptick in cases, but only at a marginal rate relative to some surging examples in the southeast U.S.
"Unfortunately amongst the un-vaccinated the Delta variant is just having its way," said Dr. Phillip Levy, the chief innovation officer at Wayne Health.
Faster Horses wrapped up two weeks ago at the Michigan International Speedway - at a time when case rates were still averaging some of the lowest reports in Michigan during the pandemic. But since then, the number of new infections has started to go back up.
Levy isn't surprised by the increase in cases. "As we also know and have seen throughout the pandemic, it’s a virus which only makes some people symptomatic and so it just seems inevitable at most that these numbers would be what they are," he said.
But In the eyes of Levy and other disease experts, all those new infections represent a scarier consequence: A higher chance for more mutations.
"These variants solely occur because the virus is replicating and each replication gives the chance of a mutation. So if you want to stop the virus from replicating you have to stop the virus from spreading and that’s how we are going to prevent mutations," he said.
The Delta variant, unlike previous strains of the coronavirus, can be spread by vaccinated people. It may not create worse health outcomes among those with the shot, but its ability to move between hosts already inoculated means transmission is that much easier - and can spread through more groups.
"The worst thing that can happen here is that we have a further lag in our vaccination rate, the virus keeps spreading, keeps mutating, another variant arises that - God forbid the vaccine is not effective against," said Levy. "That's the biggest fear we all have."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that some vaccinated people return to wearing masks in parts of the U.S. where infections are increasing.
And the solution? It's the same that doctors have been recommending for months: get vaccinated.
"Please get vaccinated. I mean you're vaccinating to help protect yourself but you're vaccinating to help protect your friends, family, neighbors, and you know, maybe the entire world," Levy said. "I’m not trying to put the weight of the world on people's shoulders but that’s really what we’re up against. The virus has to stop replicating and we have to stop spreading it