How many COVID breakthrough cases, reinfections have there been in this area? Epidemiologist explains

Pictured in this graphic created by MDHHS is the statewide rate of breakthrough cases compared to the rate of cases among those not fully vaccinated.

CADILLAC — Out of the ocean of statistics available pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, some datapoints are harder to come by than others.

The number of daily cases and deaths; the ages and genders of people who are infected with the coronavirus; and various other metrics are widely available and can be accessed online with a few mouse clicks.

Other statistics are a bit more difficult to pin down, including the number of breakthrough cases in this area and the number of cases involving someone who has been reinfected with the coronavirus.

Jordan Powell, epidemiologist with District Health Department No. 10, which covers Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Newaygo, Oceana and Wexford counties, said she is able to use data collected by the state to calculate the approximate number of breakthrough cases in this area.

“Each week we receive a list of breakthrough cases from our regional epidemiologist,” Powell wrote in an email to the Cadillac News. “I use that number of breakthrough cases and divide it by the number of persons who have completed their vaccination series as of the same date to get the percentage (in the health department jurisdiction).”

A breakthrough case is defined as an individual who has completed the primary series of an FDA-authorized vaccine, tested positive for COVID-19 or antigens on or after 14 days of the final dose of vaccine, and who has not tested positive in the 45 days prior to the most recent test.

As of Sept. 11, Powell said she’s calculated that 0.45% of people within DHD No. 10 who’ve completed their vaccination series later tested positive. That is a slight increase over a few weeks earlier, on Aug. 26, when Powell calculated that 0.28% of cases in this area were breakthroughs.

Experts have been watching for signs that breakthrough cases are rising, which could indicate that protection from the vaccines is fading.

Getting a true scope of these cases is difficult, however, as the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services notes that the data reported to them likely is an under-representation due to the nature of reporting of breakthrough cases.

As for reinfections, Powell said since March 2020, 167 people in the health department’s jurisdiction have been counted as a COVID-19 case twice, with one individual being counted three times.

Individuals with multiple positive COVID-19 tests are counted as new COVID-19 cases if 90 days have passed since the first positive test, unless otherwise classified as not testing positive due to reinfection by a medical professional.

Like breakthrough cases, however, tracking reinfections is difficult.

Without genetic testing of COVID samples from both infections, Powell said it is impossible to know if there really is a true “new infection” or just a persistence in a positive test result with symptoms like COVID which could be from other causes.

On Monday, another death from COVID was reported in Missaukee County, days after four deaths were reported following a medical records review.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 25 people have died from COVID in Missaukee County, 45 in Wexford County, 16 in Lake County and 32 in Osceola County.

Overall case numbers have been climbing in the region since about mid-July. Last Wednesday, 142 cases were reported within DHD No. 10, which is the highest daily case increase since the height of the second COVID wave in mid-to-late April.

On Monday, Evart Public Schools announced that they would be releasing students early on Tuesday to allow staff and students time to prepare for a possible closure at a future date.

“As you are well aware, COVID numbers are rising in our community,” reads a notice to the community written by superintendent Shirley Howard. “We here at Evart Public Schools are monitoring these numbers daily and will make the decision to move to online learning if necessary. We are strongly recommending that students and staff begin to wear masks ... For staff, (the early release day) would provide valuable professional development time and allow our technology department to continue to gauge the technology needs of our students. It will also help our staff to understand what they will need to teach your students starting Wednesday in order to prepare for a closure if necessary.”

Evart isn’t the only school district in Osceola County to be affected by COVID so far this school year. Reed City had to temporarily close last week in response to rising numbers of staff and student absences.

Seven patients were reported hospitalized with COVID at Munson Healthcare Cadillac Hospital on Monday.

So far, eight cases of the delta variant have been detected in Wexford County and six cases in Missaukee County. Lake County still has not seen a delta variant case, although public health officials say it is widespread throughout the area at this point. Data on variant cases in Osceola County is not available on the Central Michigan District Health Department website.

clamphere@cadillacnews.com | 775-NEWS (6397)