New Year Sees a New View of the Coronavirus by Ingham County Health

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail

Ingham County just experienced its highest caseload ever for one week – with approximately 4,000 cases reported in the week ending Jan. 9. Hospitalizations here are on the rise while rates of vaccination remain virtually static, according to information provided by Health Officer Linda Vail at a press conference held by the Ingham County Health Department on Tuesday afternoon.

Nationally and locally, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is causing a huge surge in the number of cases. According to national data, the people hospitalized and dying are very disproportionately the unvaccinated.

Here in Ingham County, although hospitalizations and deaths are approaching levels seen last winter, Vail suggested that that rapidity with which Omicron is spreading, coupled with its milder cases particularly among the vaccinated, will soon change how health departments like hers approach the disease.

Vail told reporters on Tuesday that contact tracing has presently become a relatively ineffective public health tool for combating Covid-19. The focus in the coming months will shift to protecting those in congregate settings like elder care facilities, prisons, and schools.

The new approach, Vail said, will be similar to how the Health Department deals with influenza (the flu): educating the public to try to prevent outbreaks and recommending things like vaccination and staying home when sick. Studies continue to show that vaccination for Covid-19 is extremely effective for preventing hospitalization and death.

Currently, Ingham County has 8,758 active Covid-19 cases, of which 4,000 were reported in the last week alone. Hospitalizations in the county are up as well, to 214 cases, of which 40 are in intensive care units (ICUs). Of the 214 people hospitalized, 28 are on ventilators. Four of those hospitalized in Ingham County are pediatric cases.

December 2021 was the second deadliest month of the Covid-19 pandemic for Ingham County, as 76 residents died, second only to December 2020 when 83 county residents died.

Percent positivity (the rate at which county-tracked tests come up positive for Covid) has now hit 30 percent, the highest ever in Ingham County. According to Vail, densely populated neighborhoods seem to be the hardest hit in the last 30 days.

Currently, 76 percent of Ingham County residents aged 16 and older have received a vaccine, surpassing the Ingham County Health Department’s 2021 goal of vaccinating 70 percent of that age range. Just shy of 72 percent of all residents aged 5 and older are vaccinated.

But in the last two weeks, the number of Ingham residents receiving vaccines has grown only slightly – and almost not at all among those aged 18 to 24.

Despite the record-breaking Covid numbers, Vail told reporters, “It could be a whole lot worse,” referring to many people experiencing mild cases with the Omicron variant so prevalent. Vail pointed to several countries and cities where the Omicron surge hit earlier to suggest that hospitalization rates may be bad but not as bad as they could have been.

Sparrow Hospital is currently limiting visitors to one person per patient per day. That one person can visit more than once, but each day, only one visitor is allowed for each patient. An exception is made for parents and guardians of pediatric patients.

Alice Dreger contributed reporting.

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