ELPS Considers Lifting Pause on Sports, as Area Sees Covid Situation Worsen

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Birendra Khatiwada receives the first of two doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at Sparrow Laboratories Drive-Thru Services (Formerly Sears Auto Center) on March 24, 2021.

By some metrics, the East Lansing area is seeing the worst Covid-19 numbers yet, with the metro Lansing area currently ranking eighth in the nation for metro areas with the worst per-capita increases over the last two weeks, according to data presented by the New York Times.

The number of hospitalizations at Sparrow and McLaren Lansing, now approximately 180 total, have surpassed the numbers seen during the fall and winter peak of slightly over 160 total.

From the Ingham County Health Department

This graph illustrates hospitalizations over the past year.

And while the number of new daily cases in Ingham County is lower than during the last wave – about 140 versus 180 per day – the current percent test-positivity of 16% is higher now than it was in the first wave in spring of 2020 when it was 15%. During the summer months, percent positivity hovered between 2 and 3%.

From the Ingham County Health Department

The above graph illustrates both daily case counts and percent positivity of Covid-19 tests.

East Lansing’s 48823 zip code continues to lead Ingham County in total deaths and cumulative cases of Covid-19. You can view all Covid-19 data provided by the Ingham County Health Department here.

What’s happening with ELPS?

In response to rising Covid numbers across the state – Michigan is now being featured in national headlines for the severity of the situation – Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services refrained from issuing new orders. But she asked public school districts to move high schools to remote learning and to pause athletics for two weeks following spring break. (Break ended for ELPS on Sunday.)

Superintendent Dori Leyko explained at the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday, April 12, that even prior to Whitmer’s request, ELPS and other districts in the area had planned for middle and high school students to transition to remote learning for one week after spring break. That decision had followed prompting from Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail, who expressed concern about rising numbers in the area and travel during spring break.

According to Leyko, superintendents in the Ingham County area tried to come to a consensus on how to respond to Whitmer’s recommendation. No consensus was reached, but ELPS opted to follow the new state guidelines, which means a two-week pause on sports. As per the guidelines, district elementary schools are remaining open for in-person learning.

At Monday’s meeting, Leyko said she would reconsider the two-week pause on sports pending results and data from rapid antigen testing to be conducted this Thursday. If the cases are minimal, some sports may be allowed to resume.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

East Lansing’s men’s basketball team took on Waverly this season.

Parents and students called in to the school board meeting, thanking Leyko and the trustees for reconsidering the pause, pointing out that spring sports like track, tennis, golf, and baseball are all played outdoors, with minimal contact compared to sports like basketball.

Trustee Debbie Walton voiced concern over emails forwarded to her that showed coaches of some teams encouraging players to meet up on their own to practice. She argued that sanctioned practices where safety guidelines could be enforced might better keep numbers down.

ELPS families should expect communication about possible changes on Friday or over the weekend.

What’s happening elsewhere around East Lansing with regard to covid measures?

City Hall and the District 54B Court are closed to the public until further notice. Jury trials have been suspended, and the Court encourages those in need of services to use its Virtual Counter. Information on that is available here.

The City also cancelled this past Sunday’s scheduled Downtown Underground Market, located in the parking garage below the Downtown Marriott, due to Covid-19 situation. In a press release, the City said it hopes the Underground Market will reopen on Sunday, April 25. In the meantime, residents can still enjoy public seating recently installed along pedestrian walkways downtown.

MSU remains optimistic that it will hold in-person commencement ceremonies as soon as April 30. According to information from the University, ceremonies will be smaller and held across the campus. Graduates can only bring two guests, and guests will have to present tickets.

LAFCU is offering those needing internet connection 40 free wifi hotspots with 3 months of internet connectivity through an application-based program. According to Kelli Ellsworth Etchison, LAFCU chief marketing officer and chief diversity officer, the giveaway aims “to help students participate in distance learning and for adults to connect to online education, job searches, health care information, public assistance and other critical services.” Those interested can find out more here.

Where are we with vaccinations?

While asking schools to pause sports and to transition middle and high school students online, Whitmer also requested that President Joseph R. Biden send more vaccines to Michigan to combat the current surge. The Biden administration declined, and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky said public health measures, not vaccines, would yield quicker results. The Bridge reported today that demand for vaccines is declining in parts of Michigan.

In the East Lansing area, Sparrow has moved its vaccination clinic from the former Sears Auto Center to inside the former Sears department store. According to a press release from Sparrow, the new center “will allow Sparrow to safely provide up to 3,000 COVID-19 vaccines a day to Mid-Michigan residents, three times as many as possible in Sparrow’s drive-thru location.”

Ingham County Health Department recently reported that 90,004 Ingham residents, or 37.2% of the county’s population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine. This puts the county at 53.2% of the way to vaccinating 70% of the population by the end of 2021.

Last week, MSU announced that it would provide appointments for up to 3,000 students to receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the MSU Pavilion.

Today, April 13, the Ingham County Health Department (ICHD) announced that it would pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19, following guidance from the CDC and Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after six reports of blood clots following after being vaccinated.

ICHD will continue to use Pfizer and Moderna and did not cancel any appointments following the pause. While the blood clots are exceedingly rare – less than one case per a million vaccines given – those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the last two weeks should watch for symptoms, including severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.

If you are searching for a vaccine appointment, check out our frequently updated list of locations offering vaccines.

This article was updated on April 13 at 2 p.m to include information on ICHD pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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