THURSDAY, Nov. 12 — As the holiday season approaches, health officials are calling on local residents to hunker down and avoid gatherings as COVID-19 caseloads begin to overwhelm medical systems across Mid-Michigan.
Mid-Michigan District Health Department Officer Marcus Cheatham projected today that COVID-19 could once again become a leading cause of death in Michigan as the winter months approach and an ongoing “explosion of cases” pushes local health officials into overdrive.
“We don’t see any breaks coming. As we get toward the New Year, we have to expect that it will get bad,” Cheatham said. “It’s all unsafe gatherings. It’s wherever people gather, mostly indoors, without masking and without social distancing. These types of gatherings are still happening.”
More than 1,600 coronavirus cases and 21 virus-related deaths have been detected across Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties since Election Day alone. All told, more than 9,000 cases have been found in the region since March. At least 119 people have died after testing positive.
Michigan also tracked another statewide surge yesterday with 6,000 more cases and 42 deaths. That tally included nearly 400 more cases and three deaths in Greater Lansing since Tuesday.
“We are in a stage right now of broad, widespread community transmission of this virus in our community and in most communities in the state and across the nation,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told several reporters at a weekly press briefing Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Barry-Eaton County Health Department labeled the situation a “crisis.”
“We are still fighting, but the trend is now sharply in the wrong direction. We are tired.” Health Officer Colette Scrimger said in a statement, noting upwards of 100 new cases have been tracked daily in Barry and Eaton counties. “There are no signs that it will slow down soon.”
Cheatham said Michigan tracked about 4,000 hospitalizations when coronavirus was at its worst in April. This week, statewide figures are approaching 3,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day. He also pointed squarely at social gatherings as the cause for the recent spike in caseloads.
Vail said Ingham County, at least compared to more significant spikes in Eaton and Clinton counties, is still “doing fairly well” as it works to mitigate community transmission and keep hospital beds available. Most patients are also not experiencing severe symptoms, she said.
“It’s things like weddings, funerals and church services,” Cheatham said. “People are still choosing to do these things and then they wind up spreading a disease. And for some of our vulnerable families, if one member gets COVID, it’s so hard to protect others in the house.”
Mid-Michigan District Health Department officials noted that about 90% of those who choose to quarantine after a potential exposure have not contracted the virus. Cheatham also emphasized that only about 5% of cases under his jurisdiction are associated with schools that remain open.
“We wish all businesses would act like schools and would have masking, screening and quarantines,” he added. “If that were happening, this disease would not be spreading.”
Contact tracing efforts at local health departments for months have helped residents stay informed when they may have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Cheatham said that process, however, is becoming more and more difficult — and time consuming — as cases multiply. An ongoing deluge of disinformation and misinformation about the virus also isn’t necessarily helping health officials get a grip on the situation, he said.
“We’re really worried that any new orders will just be met with disobedience and will be ineffective,” Cheatham said. “You can make new orders, but if the behavior doesn’t change, what do you accomplish? Because of the way this thing has gone politically, it’s difficult to imagine what will change in the future to dramatically impact the course of this disease.”
After the Michigan Supreme Court ruled some of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers unconstitutional, state and local health departments have independently replaced many of those precautionary restrictions on gathering sizes, face masks and social distancing requirements.
Still, many local residents feel empowered by the ruling and have shown disregard for safety.
“It created the impression in the mind of the public that all public health orders were no longer in effect. That’s exactly what people are saying to us when we call: The governor’s powers aren’t in place. You don’t have any authority to tell us what to do anymore,” Cheatham explained.
As cases continue to increase locally, Cheatham also said that residents can expect testing availability to dwindle and for other public services — like responses from law enforcement, local health departments, nonprofit agencies and schools — to be delayed or cease altogether.
“We have agreements with schools and these other partners to work together as a team,” Cheatham said. “They tell us immediately when they have a case. We respond within 24 hours. All of us are overwhelmed and we’re not able to keep those promises to each other right now.”
Cheatham said the statewide supply of COVID-19 tests is also “tightening up again.” The state still lists sites where people can be tested without any costs or symptoms, but they’re becoming fewer and farther between, he explained. His advice: Don’t hold out for a test result anymore.
“It’s getting to the point where we’ll start substituting diagnosis for testing,” he added. “If you’re around someone who has COVID-19 and you have symptoms, you must act as if you have COVID whether you’re tested or not. Employers or whoever else must not hold out for results.”
By the numbers…
Michigan — 11/3/20 11/10/20 11/11/20
Cases 187,995 223,277 229,285
Deaths 7,400 7,724 7,766
Greater Lansing —
Cases 7,518 8,790 9,165
Deaths 98 116 119
Ingham County —
Cases 4,981 5,685 5,837
Deaths 70 79 80
Eaton County —
Cases 1,285 1,613 1,735
Deaths 12 19 21
Clinton County —
Cases 1,252 1,492 1,593
Deaths 16 18 18