As the United States has officially reached half a million COVID-19 related deaths, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said a year ago she would have never thought we would still be in the same position as we are now.
Vail said many things about the pandemic continue to be unpredictable and to defy expectations of even a scientist with a background in infectious disease like herself. She learned early on that her ability to predict things beyond a week from now is pretty much nonexistent.
“I feel pretty good when I can kind of get sense of where we are and where we might be heading in the next week, and then unpredictable things happen, and a half million deaths is profound," Vail said. "It is devastating. It is devastating to the loved ones that have experienced that and have lost people."
For many, family members were unable to be with loved ones when they died and celebrations of life or services were unable to be held. On top of that, Vail said they have to deal with a population of people who still deny the severity of the pandemic.
“To have lost somebody to COVID and to be living around people who want to deny that COVID is a problem, that COVID is anything more than the flu, who want to try and say things like they’re just making up these deaths, they’re making this up – that has to be additionally challenging and really, I just can’t even imagine,” Vail said.
In Ingham County, there have been 15,315 cases of COVID-19 and 271 deaths to date. Since the initiation of a period of enhanced social distancing at Michigan State University, weekly case numbers associated with the university have dropped from 175 the week of Feb. 1 to 23 the week of Feb. 15.
Vail said the measures taken by the university were substantial and have likely played a role in bringing the numbers down. Her biggest hope is that they can increase the desire and availability of testing for both on and off-campus students.
On-campus residents are required to participate in the Spartan Spit Early Detection Program, which has now been authorized as a confirmatory test for COVID-19. Vail said many off-campus students have chosen to be involved in the program as well, which has been helpful in getting ahold of university-related cases to the extent they have people participating.
In East Lansing, the City Council is expected to extend their emergency declaration and requirement of masks downtown through May 16 at their Feb. 23 meeting.
Vail said given the unpredictable nature of the virus, May is a good date because it’s easier to pull back than it is to put a date that’s too short and have to extend it further.
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