Ingham County Braces to Handle the Ongoing Covid-19 Surge

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

The Sparrow Covid-19 testing center at Frandor in late May 2020.

As Covid-19 cases continue to surge in Michigan, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told reporters on Tuesday that “we are nowhere near a point of flattening this curve.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Ingham County has a cumulative total of 6,899 Covid-19 cases, 2,554 of which are active. More than 90 Ingham residents have died of Covid-19. You can view the dashboard here.

According to Vail, the community is at a point where Covid-19 spread is pervasive and the tools that the Ingham County Health Department had been using are no longer effective. 

On Monday evening, the Health Department announced it would focus its contact tracing efforts on “people over age 65 years; people under age 18 years; anyone linked to an acute care, skilled nursing or long-term care facility; anyone linked to a school (includes child care facilities, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities); and any time a death has occurred.”

Vail and her team now usually are informed of roughly 150 new cases a day, and sometimes nearly 250. There isn’t enough staff to conduct all that contact tracing, said Vail, and even if there were, it wouldn’t control the spread of the virus at this point. Contact tracing works best with outbreaks and clusters, she explained, but it is not effective when the disease is this widespread. 

If you contract Covid-19, you’re urged to inform those who you were in contact with. Contact constitutes more than 15 minutes in a 24 hour period. If you were unmasked or less than 6 feet away from someone, you need to contact them.

What does this mean for hospitals, testing and contact tracing capacity?

The Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday morning that Sparrow Lansing may reach capacity by Thanksgiving, stating that it is currently at 81% capacity, but that includes patients being treated from something besides Covid-19. 

Vail reported Tuesday afternoon that between Sparrow Lansing and McLaren Lansing, there are 156 people hospitalized with Covid-19 or a suspected case of the virus. Of those, 15 are in the ICU and 16 on ventilators. Vail said that approximately 40 to 45% of those in Ingham’s hospitals were Ingham residents. On Monday, the two hospitals saw 49 emergency room visits for Covid-19 symptoms.

Vail said that Sparrow’s St. Lawrence Campus, also in Lansing, is opening approximately 15 to 20 beds to accommodate overflow. Access to personal protective equipment (PPE) is not an immediate concern, she said, but both Vail and Sparrow Spokesperson John Foren expressed concerns about staffing.

Lab wait times are growing longer, and the rules have now changed for Sparrow Covid tests

ELi reached out to Foren after a reader wrote to ELi about the wait times at Sparrow Labs. The reader said she had gone to a lab for routine blood work. Protocol requires patients to check-in and wait in their cars until they receive a text alert that they are allowed to enter the building. She left before being called, but had she stayed, her total wait time would have been approximately three hours.

The reader shared her email correspondence with a lab director who himself voiced frustrations with the overall situation. The lab director said that labs were short-staffed, and it was affecting individuals who needed blood work unrelated to the pandemic. The lab director also stated that Sparrow’s work was being undermined by those who did not abide by CDC guidelines, particularly mask-wearing.

Sparrow announced Friday that effective Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, all persons being tested for Covid-19 needed a doctor’s referral or to complete a form through the My Sparrow portal. Vail said at her press conference today that the move was taken to make the lines move faster, not to reduce the number of tests administered.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Lines at the Sparrow testing center in Frandor in late May 2020.

Foren said that the lines seem to be improving, but finding enough nurses and lab workers still remains a challenge. Vail said hospitals do not quarantine frontline workers unless they have prolonged exposure, such as living in the same household as someone who has Covid-19. But, as community spread increases, so has the number of medical professionals who have contracted Covid-19, further reducing staff.

Vail did say that the situation is different than in the spring. Hospitalizations were lower, but the percentage of Covid-19 positive individuals who were hospitalized was higher. Treatment has also improved in the past months. But certain treatments, such as laying patients on their stomachs, is labor intensive and can require multiple people handling a Covid-positive patient.

Who is most vulnerable?

In the past week, a 26-year-old male in Ingham County died of Covid-19. Before that, all deaths in the County had been of residents 50 or older. According to Vail, the man was disabled, and the Ingham County Health Department only became aware of his death after the Medical Examiner reported that he tested positive during his autopsy. Vail explained that national data suggests that disabled people have disproportionately been affected by the virus, similar to people of color. 

In April, ELi reported that people who identified as African Americans had a higher rate of infection in Ingham County, but those who contracted Covid-19 through the outbreaks related to MSU in the summer and early fall were largely Caucasian. However, the rates of infection for people of color have remained high.

In Ingham County, African Americans have a rate of infection of 2,689 per 100,000, while Caucasians come in at 1,998 per 100,000, and Asians at 1,737 per 100,000. 

Linda Vail presented data about race and Covid-19 at the press conference.

In public health data, Hispanic/Latino is considered an ethnicity, not a race. People who identify as Hispanic/Latino have a rate of infection of 2,406 per 100,000 and non-Hispanic/Latinos of 1,981 per 100,000.

Linda Vail presented data about ethnicity and Covid-19 at the press conference.

African Americans account for approximately 12 percent of Ingham County residents according to U.S. Census data, but account for over 22 percent of all deaths.

Those contracting Covid-19 in the current surge are trending older, Vail said. During the summer and fall, outbreaks were associated with bars and house parties, where people tend to be younger.

What’s next?

Vail endorsed the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement on Sunday of new public health restrictions that begin tomorrow, calling them “more targeted and surgical.”

According to Vail, the orders limit activities that are linked to Covid spread, such as public indoor dining and school athletics. Activities that are safer, such as in-person learning for K-8 students, are allowed to continue.

In three weeks, Vail said, we will know if the measures worked.

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