GAYLORD — The positivity rate for COVID-19 in Northern Michigan is exceeding levels seen in previous surges of the disease.
Dr. Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer for Munson Healthcare, said Tuesday 21% of tests for the disease in the area served by the Munson system were positive, higher than the overall state rate of 16.8%, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Nefcy also discussed breakthrough cases or those who have contracted the coronavirus even after getting vaccinated. She said 1.5% of those who are fully vaccinated in Michigan met the criteria of a breakthrough case. Of those who were vaccinated and got COVID-19 and later died, about 87% were over the age of 65.
“We know that when you are older your immune system doesn’t respond as well and when you are older you are likely to have comorbidities (the presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions in a patient),” Nefcy said.
She noted that most vaccines are not 100% effective and over time there can be diminishing effectiveness, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week issued an emergency use authorization for booster shots to all adults six months from their last vaccine dose.
Nefcy also encouraged parents to get their children (ages 5 to 11) vaccinated even though the disease risk is statistically small for that age group.
“We still see kids get very sick from COVID-19 and pediatric hospitalizations are rising,” said Nefcy. She said Munson doesn’t have an intensive care unit or ICU for children. The nearest one for Northern Michigan residents is the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.
Munson remains on the pandemic response level “red,” the highest alert level on a five-color scale.
Meanwhile Munson announced revisions to its visitation policies as the coronavirus surge brings added concerns for virus transmission and the need for patient and employee safety.
Effective immediately, all inpatients, including those who have tested positive for COVID-19, will be allowed one visitor per day in the facility. The visitor will be limited to two hours.
Hospital staff will make every effort to help patients connect with their loved ones virtually, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Exceptions to the two-hour rule for inpatients include:
- Obstetric patients will be allowed one birthing partner or support person and one certified doula. Obstetric inpatients with a COVID-19 positive diagnosis are allowed one visitor, with appropriate personal protective equipment.
- Pediatric patients (21 years of age or younger) will be allowed two adult primary caregivers at a time (such as parents, foster parents, or guardians).
- End-of-life patients will be allowed two visitors at a time.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan announced recently it reached a milestone with 70% of residents age 16 years and older in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Additionally, in nearly two weeks 6.7% of children aged 5-11 in the four-county jurisdiction have received their first dose of the approved Pfizer vaccine.
“Even with 70% vaccination rates in persons 16 and older, there are still many susceptible individuals and a circulating strain (Delta) that is highly contagious and spreads more easily than the original strain,” said Dr. Joshua Meyerson, medical director of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “Given the contagiousness of the virus it is unlikely that we will reach a level of immunity that will lead to elimination of this virus in the next few years.”
Despite the health department reaching this milestone of 70%, cases have continued to increase throughout the region.
From Oct. 4-Nov. 7, the Health Department of Northwest Michigan reported 2,301 total cases of COVID-19 in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties. The majority of the reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths during this timeframe were unvaccinated, according to health department data.
From Oct. 4-Nov. 7, the health department reported 66.38% of cases occurred in individuals who were not vaccinated. Among unvaccinated cases, 52.8% were symptomatic, 3.7% were asymptomatic and 43.5% did not report symptom status.
“Being vaccinated reduces your risk of infection, but more importantly greatly reduces your risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death due to this virus,” Meyerson said. “Most reported cases are in unvaccinated individuals, and over 90% of those currently hospitalized in our ICUs are unvaccinated.”
Health department officials reiterate vaccination is the best way to reduce an individual’s risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as the best method of reducing the impact of COVID-19 in the region.
As of Nov. 22, the Health Department of Northwest Michigan reported Otsego County had 3,831 COVID-19 cases and 65 deaths to date from the coronavirus.
As of Nov. 17, Otsego County had 3,715 COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths from COVID-19.
Antrim County was reporting 2,745 cases and 42 deaths as of Nov. 22, while Charlevoix County had 2,933 cases and 42 deaths. Emmet County had 3,829 cases and 55 deaths.
Antrim County reported 2,668 cases and 40 deaths on Nov. 17 while Charlevoix County had 2,821 cases and 39 deaths. Emmet County reported 3,748 cases and 53 deaths.
Statewide, Michigan had 1,259,261 cases and 23,315 deaths as of Nov. 22, according to MDHHS. The state was reporting 1,224,273 cases and 23,104 deaths on Nov. 17.
The first two confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan were reported March 10, 2020 and the first death was reported on March 19 of last year.
Steve Foley of the Petoskey News-Review contributed to this report