Ingham County is experiencing widespread COVID-19 transmission, making it difficult to compare the rate of infections with clustered outbreaks in April, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said in a media briefing Tuesday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Ingham County reports 5,685 COVID-19 cases with 1,611 currently active. County hospitalizations in Sparrow and McLaren health facilities total 121 confirmed and suspected cases. Of those, 12 are in the intensive care unit and 12 are on ventilators.
Vail said the increased rate of hospitalizations brings a lot of questions in terms of the actions being mandated now.
“The context of this virus and what we’re dealing with is very different now from what it was in April. So, taking hospitalizations now, cases now and all of the rest of that now and looking at it with the lens of April is just not a very accurate way to look at it,” Vail said.
While hospitalizations are far greater than in April, there are more low-acuity patients, meaning fewer are severely ill.
The rate of infections makes it difficult for local health officials to accurately contact trace for every case of COVID-19, Vail said. The county is focusing its efforts around outbreaks, clusters and high-risk areas.
“We have widespread community transmission. You can’t isolate and quarantine your way out of that, it just is," Vail said. "What works is people doing the right thing.”
This means residents should continue wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
“We have to keep measuring our way through this and looking once again (at) what’s going on with our hospitals, what do we need to do about hospital capacity, what do public health departments need to do to help the community basically continue with isolation and quarantine, but also a little bit more self-guidance,” Vail said.
Vail said she has seen other health departments prioritize contract tracing following an overwhelming number of cases.
“I have a bit of a different message — my message isn’t that we are overwhelmed and we can’t anymore, I mean we can hire more, we can keep going, but honestly the effectiveness of doing that for widespread community transmission just doesn’t exist and it’s a futile effort,” Vail said.
Instead, she said, we need to focus on younger people, older people, congregate settings, true outbreaks and clusters. Likewise, people need to start taking ownership of their illness and understanding what they need to do in regards to isolation and quarantine to help contain the rest of what’s going on to the extent that it can be contained.
Getting tested before going to a social gathering is a false sense of security, Vail said.
As lines for testing have started to become longer, Vail said there is a need to start communicating about the appropriate sense of urgency about getting tested.
Getting a positive test doesn’t change the trajectory of what the illness is and a negative result only holds true for a snapshot of time. Being negative on the day you took the test does not guarantee a continued negative result in any of the days following.
“Everybody is getting tested first and it’s going to tax our system greatly if people keep approaching life in the way that it’s like ‘I’m going to get tested before I do things so I know that I and everybody around me are safe,’ because it’s just not factual,” Vail said. “So, we’re creating long lines, we’re taxing our capacity and utilizing resources in inappropriate ways when we’re doing that.”
The turnaround on results from Sparrow that used to be 4-5 hours is now in some cases up to 4-5 days, Vail said.
The best practice for community members, Vail said is to continue practicing the guidelines in place.
“That’s where our success is right now — absent a vaccine and absent a cure is in really strict adherence to those things,” Vail said. “If we can get strict adherence to mask-wearing and social distancing and gathering restrict and those sorts of things, we can get through this second wave without significant disruption.”
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