The Ingham County Health Department, or ICHD, and their Chief Health Officer, Linda Vail, updated the numbers in their last media briefing meeting Nov. 16, giving the community insight on the growing trends of COVID-19 and who is burdened the most by this illness.
Vail opened the meeting by explaining Ingham County has a cumulative amount of 34,119 cases, 3,756 active cases and most importantly, 1,456 cases and 12 deaths since last week on Nov. 9.
“I can tell you these numbers are going up quickly,” Vail said.
Due to this upward tick in cases, there is also a gradual upward trend occurring in hospitalization of positive cases and emergency department visits due to the severity of these cases. There is also a significant number of patients in the ICU.
The death rates are also now increasing, matching patterns from last year's October to November.
“We are still below where we were this time last year, but remarkably starting to get quite close,” Vail said.
The percent positivity of cases has increased to 15% of all virus tests.
The zip code that sees the most positive COVID cases is 48823, which is the campus location. However, there are some misrepresentations in the prevalence of this data because this zip code also is the most populated, Vail said.
One of the real hotspots is not campus or the hospital but has been the shelters. Holy Cross Shelter in Lansing had a small outbreak, as well as City Rescue Mission, another homeless shelter in the Lansing area.
“We had a lot of work with them on infection control guidance and isolation quarantine guidance, as well as vaccinations and other things,” Vail said. “Those shelter outbreaks are coming into control.”
The most affected age group has also changed over the last year. A year ago, college ages including 20-29 and 10-19 were the two highest groups affected by the virus. However, recently the group affected the most is no longer the college community, but the age group 30-39.
Ingham County continues to trend with more people of color being affected by the spread of the virus compared to those of Caucasian descent. There is a 47.8% increase in cases in African Americans compared to the Caucasian population. There is also a 52.8% increase over the Hispanic or Latinx population over those who are not part of that population.
“We continue to see that disproportionate burden of illness in our population of color,” Vail said.
There has also been a 52.8% increase of African American deaths due to the virus.
While the college-age population is seemingly escaping the brunt of the cases, that population may not be completely in the clear, Vail said.
“With vaccination rates very high in the 90 plus percent range in our 65 and older group, we are seeing the death demographics shift to some younger age groups,” Vail said.
The ICHD finally has the correct numbers from the university on vaccination rates that were incorrect from the state census tract numbers.
“Those census tract population numbers are wrong,” Vail said. “The university has told me the accurate population there. We show about 156 people with one dose or more of vaccine in those census tracts and we now know that there are more than 14,000 people in those census tracts that are vaccinated.”
Ingham County has now reached the 70% vaccination threshold. This also puts Michigan State University at 91% vaccinated.
While cases are still on the rise and look similar to the previous year, people are pushing for the enforcement of safety protocols in the county. However, Vail said we are in a completely different context than we were last year.
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“We know what the right things to do are, and there’s not a lot of ability to kind of restrict and enforce our way out of it,” Vail said. “You’ve seen what happened with masks requirements in schools. You’ve seen what's happened with even trying to attempt to recommend masks in indoor places. We continue to strongly recommend masks in indoor places as well as require masks in schools. ... I think we’re just going to have to watch this very closely to see if there are additional steps that need to be taken.”
She said that while she intends to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and the state with serious consideration, there has been no signaling that there will be a need for stricter rules on virus protection.
With the holidays approaching where many people gather, Vail was asked how the holidays will have an impact on cases.
“We really did not see a significant impact of the holidays on cases,” Vail said. “So, it is entirely possible that we also will not see a significant impact of the holidays on cases this season, as well.”
She said that her favorite advice is to gather with fully vaccinated people if anyone was to gather. She also emphasized the importance of seeking out third doses and booster shots as well as taking rapid tests if an individual is feeling cold symptoms, whether they are vaccinated or not.
While the briefing was mostly about COVID-19, Vail also answered about the flu season in the face of the University of Michigan having an Influenza A outbreak.
“There were found to be 36 cases of Influenza A on campus. ... It's nowhere near what they're seeing on University of Michigan campus, but we are seeing some Influenza A at MSU campus as well, and that's probably happening in the community as well,” Vail said.
She stated that while it was still an early start of flu season, this could also reflect patterns of COVID-19.
The ICHD predicts that COVID-19 is just following patterns and expect these numbers to flatten, but for now is in an upward trend and continues to spread the message of staying healthy and safe in a time where the pandemic is still more than relevant in the community.
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