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Deaths will rise if parties continue: Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail warns students

September 10, 2020
<p>A sign requiring face coverings posted outside Olin Health Center on Aug. 24, 2020.</p>

A sign requiring face coverings posted outside Olin Health Center on Aug. 24, 2020.

In a media briefing Tuesday, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said Michigan State University (MSU) students need to take action now to prevent more deaths in November and December. 

The announcement came after a press release on Tuesday reported 124 MSU students and two employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 30.

Of the 41 deaths in Ingham County since the pandemic began, Vail said no one under 50 has experienced the more drastic and tragic effects of the virus. Looking at the data, she said a lot of young people see these numbers and assume ignoring social distancing guidelines won’t have any real effects on them.

With 75 of the newly reported cases in the data set analyzed for symptoms, about 15% were asymptomatic, Vail said.

Back in June, when bars and restaurants reopened and a local bar saw an outbreak of nearly 200 COVID-19 cases, Vail said serious illness and deaths were a lagging indicator. August saw a surge of 10 deaths and a spike in hospital rates following a six-week period with no deaths at all.

“So, while these students or younger folks may not think that it affects them, we do tell them, well what about your grandparents? What about your family members?” Vail said. “Well sometimes when they don’t see it affect their immediate family members, it’s like ‘see, nothing happened' … what they did was create an increased transmission across this community which then ultimately impacted people who were older, sicker, got sicker and died.”

The 124 cases, majorly attributed to students living off-campus, come largely as a result of parties and social gatherings that have taken place since students have returned to the community, Vail said.

In August 2020, MSU Interfraternity Council (IFC) failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed to pass a social moratorium for events in the fall semester.

Vail said fraternities and sororities should not be having parties and called upon those living in these households to recognize that renting separate rooms in a big house does not make a household. Masks should still be worn when within six feet from other people and no more than 10 people should be congregated indoors.

However, it’s not just fraternities and sororities — there are parties happening all over in East Lansing, Vail said.

East Lansing Police Department and the university are working on enforcement, Vail said, but indoor parties are very hard to know about.

The younger age demographic, Vail said, is reluctant to report where they have been or who they’ve been with because they know they’re doing something that they shouldn’t be doing.

“If people who are already sick do not help us identify the other people who are impacted, then that’s going to be a problem,” Vail said.

As winter approaches, Vail said outdoor gatherings will not be as much of an issue as indoor ones will be with indoor parties being highly contagious for spreading the virus.

“When public health works, stuff doesn’t happen,” Vail said. “…As long as we’ve got it contained, then people don’t see stuff happening around them. But as soon as they let their guard down, it’s still going to happen.”

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