CADILLAC — The B.1.1.7 variant is believed to be behind many of the area's COVID-19 outbreaks, District Health Department No. 10's medical director said Tuesday.
"The pattern we have seen is just ... it's like someone dropped a powder keg of COVID off in a location," said Dr. Jennifer Morse during a Munson Healthcare-hosted press conference Tuesday.
Though there have been just 12 confirmed B.1.1.7 cases in Wexford County the true number is certainly much higher.
Not everybody can be tested for the variant. It's a complicated process and can take weeks for the results to come through, Dr. Morse said. But by looking at the surge in cases and the way the virus is behaving, it's "probably safe to assume" that a large percentage of cases are caused by the variant.
"Our assumption would be that probably 30 to 50% of them are likely caused by the variant," Dr. Morse said, stressing that the number is "a guesstimate."
Dr. Morse said the health department has been trying to send a few samples from the larger outbreaks to the state lab, and so far the department's hunches that the outbreaks were due to the variant were correct.
Health officials have long said that the B.1.1.7 variant is not more deadly but it more transmissible than the earlier version of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. A more transmissible virus means more people will get sick.
The variant is also one reason why the quarantining advice has gone back to 14 days.
During the press conference, Dr. Morse and others also spoke about the COVID-19 vaccine and its efficacy.
The Detroit Free Press reported that 246 Michiganders who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 ended up catching the virus. Three died.
But some breakthrough infection was expected. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95% effective, and that's a number the medical establishment was thrilled with, according to Munson Healthcare's chief of medicine, Dr. Christine Nefcy.
But at 95% efficacy, some people are going to get sick. And 246 people out of 2.3 million vaccinated Michiganders are pretty good odds.
"That is a far better than 95% efficacy rate," Dr. Nefy noted.
"I think what that tells you, on one hand, is that this vaccine works. I think what it tells you, on the other hand, is that . . . we still have such a high percentage of positivity in our communities," Dr. Nefcy said.
With coronavirus still rampant in our northern Michigan communities, whether you're vaccinated or not, it's too early to return to pre-Covid life.
"It's really, really essential, given how high our percentage rate is in our community, that we continue to mask in social distance, regardless of whether you are immunized or not," Dr. Nefcy said.
Preliminary data on the possible breakthrough cases is that 11 out of 246 fully vaccinated Michianders were hospitalized and three died.
"I think it's important to understand, too, they didn't die because of the vaccine. They died because of COVID-19," Dr. Nefcy said. Health officials are still trying to learn why the vaccine didn't protect them. "This data is very preliminary, but we do know–and have said all along—no vaccine is 100% effective."
If you are vaccinated, Dr. Nefcy recommends copying for vaccine card or saving a picture of it on your phone.
"That could become important for you to be able to show proof of your vaccine," Dr. Nefcy said.