COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, and Jackson counties, increasing 66.7% in the past two weeks.
Clinton County has identified 80 new cases since March 23. Eaton County confirmed 208, Ingham identified 505 and Jackson County confirmed 385 new cases in the same time frame.
Michigan is home to half of the cities named to the New York Time’s top 10 worst COVID-19 outbreaks across the nation. Jackson ranked first, Lansing seventh.
Marcus Cheatham is the health officer for the Mid Michigan District Health Department, which serves Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm Counties. He says the recent surges in case numbers could be coming from a combination of recent factors in the area.
“We're pretty confident that it's a perfect storm, with the reopening and the variant hitting at the same time. So things that used to be safe to do or no longer safe to do,” Cheatham said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new phase of the state’s reopening process just three weeks ago on March 5. It included increased capacity in restaurants and for residential gatherings as well as limited visitation to long-term care facilities.
Public health officials have stressed caution and continued prevention methods throughout each stage of reopening.
“I think one of the things that's concerning to us is, again, we're seeing a surge when it isn't necessary. A lot of it has to do with COVID fatigue, and people just taking risks again,” Cheatham said.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will be ramping up testing in nursing homes, schools, airports and socially vulnerable communities in response to the surge.
“Our goal is to loosen restrictions while reducing public health risk which is why we move slowly to maintain progress and momentum with thoughtful public health measures,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health department. “We are also increasing testing in key populations to help identify cases more quickly and help prevent additional spread of the virus.”
Cheatham is confident the state will be able to meet the May 1 benchmark for statewide vaccinations but the continued transmission of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant is forcing health departments to pull nurses and resources from a full vaccination focus to handle contact tracing and investigations into the spread.
“A lot of these cases are B.1.1.7, the more resistant variant, so we're having to do you know, blood draws and get samples to the state lab, so they can figure out where this variant is spreading to,” Cheatham said.
Another concerning point of the surge for public health officials is the rise in case rates and hospitalizations of younger demographics. In Ingham County, the 20 to 29 age range holds the highest number of COVID positivity.
“We're seeing hospitalizations among young adults as high as they've ever been, as high as the worst time in the pandemic, for that age group. So that's really concerning,” Cheatham said.
As of Monday, all Michiganders age 16 and up will be eligible to receive a vaccine. It may still be a few weeks before everyone who is eligible is able to secure an appointment to get vaccinated. Officials are asking all Michiganders interested in receiving their vaccine to check their local health department website as well as local pharmacies such as:
“It's not too late to go back to wearing a mask and social distancing. Just for another, give it four to six weeks. And we'll be through this surge, and you'll be home safe,” Cheatham said.
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