By Chris Lamphere
CADILLAC — Public health officials in Northern Michigan fully expect there will be a surge in COVID-19 cases in coming weeks as the Delta variant of the coronavirus moves its way through the area.
Dr. Christine Nefcy, Chief Medical Officer for Munson Healthcare, said the 14-day average COVID-19 positivity rate in Northern Michigan has been hovering around 1.3%, which is low but a slight uptick from the average two weeks ago, which dropped below 1%. The rate of positive cases per 100,000 individuals currently is 21 and the there have been under 10 hospitalized patients at Munson hospitals for a couple of weeks now.
“So far we’re doing well in Northern Michigan but there’s still concern,” said Nefcy, who added that there’s been a recent increase in COVID cases nationwide, mostly resulting from the Delta variant, which was detected recently in an individual in Crawford County.
“Some states are preparing for a full-blown outbreak,” said Nefcy. “Yes, I expect (there will be an increase in COVID cases here resulting from the variant).”
Nefcy said the reason they believe the variant will have an impact on case rates in this area is its “R-naught,” which is a measure of how much the virus is able to spread between people. The original coronavirus had an R-naught of a little over two, meaning around two people would be infected by a single source. The Delta variant has an R-naught of between three and a half and four.
Nefcy said the Delta variant is primarily spreading among unvaccinated segments of the population, which at this time comprise around 99.5% of all the people who are dying from COVID-19.
That is particularly concerning for the youngest segments of the population, most of which have not received or can not receive a vaccination.
As more older people get vaccinated, Nefcy said they’re starting to see a shift in the overall percentage of young people severely impacted by COVID-19. While the virus doesn’t impact young people as much as older folks, Nefcy said a small percentage of young people who come into contact with the virus will develop serious illness.
“Delta will spread among the unvaccinated much faster, so that’s where we’ll see the cases,” Nefcy said. “And that includes young people, a certain percentage of which will get ill ... healthy people can get bad COVID and end up hospitalized.”
As if to underscore the seriousness of the situation even as case numbers remain low, on Tuesday Lake County reported another death from COVID, bringing their total number of deaths to 16 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Also on Tuesday, it was reported that Wexford County added one new positive case. Total case counts in area counties are 2,560 in Wexford County, 1,276 in Missaukee County, 595 in Lake County and 1,706 in Osceola County.
On Tuesday, the state reported that there had been 1,028 new cases reported since their last update on Friday, including 14 deaths. Over the four days (Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday), the average number of new confirmed cases was 257 per day. The deaths announced Friday included 14 deaths identified during a vital records review.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 898,626 confirmed cases in Michigan and 19,862 deaths.
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