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Cases surge in Marquette County

MCHD:?Variant believed to be related to increase

MARQUETTE — The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant is believed to be related to the current COVID-19 surge in Marquette County and appears to result in a greater degree of illness than previously seen, the Marquette County Health Department has announced.

Dr. Bob Lorinser, MCHD medical director, said in a news release that between March 28 and Sunday, the county reported 138 cases, for a daily average of roughly 15 cases.

The 18-29 age group showed the highest number of cases at 51, followed by the 5-17 age group with 28 cases. Lorinser said the 18-29 age bracket made up 37% of all cases, even though this group comprises only 17% of the county’s population. He noted the 65-and-older age group accounted for 6% of cases and 23% of the population.

This represented a nearly 14-fold case incidence change between these two age groups over the last seven months.

Based on the statistics and predictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding hospitalizations and deaths, Lorinser said it is hoped that Marquette hospitalizations will not duplicate last winter’s surge, severity of illness or the number of deaths.

He expressed concern over the B.1.1.7 variant.

“Many downstate hospitals are beyond their capacity at this time, secondary to the sheer number of cases being seen, even though a small number requires hospitalization,” Lorinser said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least one in 13 residents in Marquette County has been infected, based on the 5,150 reported cases, he said. Based on estimates from the CDC, the county could have an overall immunity rate of 58% or greater.

However, “Marquette is somewhat protected in the recent surge secondary to our relative but still insufficient ‘herd immunity,” Lorinser said in the release.

The county’s population is 66,700, of which 55,100 are age 16 or older, Lorinser said. The CDC estimated one in 4.2 COVID-symptomatic illnesses were reported, and one in 4.6 COVID-19 infections were reported.

Lorinser said that if this applied to the county’s infection rate of nearly 8%, it’s possible for nearly 32% of the population to have been infected, resulting in a “significant” amount of natural immunity of unknown duration, but most likely six to eight months or more.

A total of 23,400 residents have started or completed their COVID-19 vaccinations, he said, which accounts for nearly 35% of the population.

“Since these groups are not independent of each other, another assumption could be that 32% of the population vaccinated may have already been infected,” Lorinser said. “So using this correction factor, those not infected but vaccinated would total 24%. This would give a herd immunity of 58% or greater, adding these two groups together.”

The state of Michigan also reported a surge, with over 8,000 cases reported on Wednesday.

Possible reasons for the surge, according to the MCHD, include the virus variants, pandemic fatigue and the fact that Michigan might be naturally catching up to other states, with the state’s restrictions having kept case counts lower than other states.

Lorinser stressed that more people in Marquette County need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. The county reported that 45% of the eligible population of individuals age 16 and over are starting to, or completing their vaccinations, but less than 3% are registered to receive it.

Enough vaccine will be available by the end of June to immunize anyone wishing to receive the vaccine, he said.

Other facts Lorinser provided include:

≤ Variants will be a continued threat for years since it is a pandemic, regardless of what the U.S. can accomplish in protecting its population.

≤ Depending on the result of the race between variants and vaccinations, normalcy could occur by late summer or fall in the U.S.

≤ Booster doses will depend on variant developments and the duration of the vaccine’s immunity, both of which are unknown.

≤ Pediatric vaccination for individuals age 12 and older should be available by mid-summer, and late this year or early 2022 for younger age groups.

Secondary to the variant concern and surge, Michigan has resumed a 14-day quarantine for all COVID close contacts, which went into effect on Monday.

Genome sequencing explained

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Laboratories scientists have been performing genome sequencing on the virus to identify variants since shortly after the first positive COVID-19 test was processed at the lab on March 10, 2020.

More than 10,000 samples have been sequenced by BOL staff to date, with over 4,200 of those tests completed in 2021, the MDHHS announced on Wednesday.

“Our lab is a national leader in genome sequencing and our efforts have allowed us to implement rapid public health responses to slow the spread of outbreaks involving more easily transmitted variants,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, in a statement. “We will continue to work to identify these variants in Michigan as an important tool in fighting this pandemic back in Michigan.”

Viruses are constantly changing, and this includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the MDHHS said. These genetic variations occur over time and can lead to the emergence of new variants that might have different characteristics.

The MDHHS indicated that the SARS-CoV-2 genome encodes instructions organized into sections, called genes, to build the virus. Scientists use a process called genomic sequencing to decode the genes and learn more about the virus. Genomic sequencing allows scientists to identify SARS-CoV-2 and monitor how it changes over time into new variants, understand how these changes affect the characteristics of the virus and use this information to predict how it might impact health.

Some variant viruses are of particular concern because they spread more easily, cause more severe disease or could escape the body’s immune response.

The genome sequencing process takes about a week after the lab receives the positive COVID-19 test results, the MDHHS said. The MDHHS BOL is one of two labs in Michigan currently conducting sequencing and can process about 500 to 600 samples per week.

However, it noted that not every COVID-19 positive test is sequenced, which means additional cases of the variant could be present in the state.

Because sequencing of specimens associated with outbreak investigations is a priority, many of the samples this year were sequenced were from a Michigan Department of Corrections outbreak, with the remainder submitted from a variety of other locations throughout the state.

As of Monday, 1,998 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been identified, with 513 of those, or 26%, connected to the MDOC investigation, the MDHHS said. Additionally, eight cases of the B.1.351, or the South African variant, have been identified, and three cases of P.1, or the Brazilian variant, and 16 cases of the B.1.427 and B.1.429, or California variant, have been discovered.

Peters commends

funding for vets

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Hills, on Wednesday applauded federal funding for the Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette to prevent and respond to the spread of COVID-19.

The facility will receive around $662,200. Peters helped pass this funding as part of the government funding bill enacted into law in December.

“Michigan’s veterans have given so much for our country, and we have an obligation to care for them after they complete their service,” said Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement. “This federal funding will help the state veterans home in Marquette with costs associated with COVID-19 so they can continue serving our state’s veterans.”

State veterans homes are operated by state governments and partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide nursing home, domiciliary and adult day care services to veterans with special medical needs, including thousands of elderly veterans.

Peters also announced he is pushing to ensure that Americans stationed at U.S. military facilities abroad are able to access COVID-19 vaccines and have clear guidance about how to do so.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Peters asked what procedures and policies the Department of Defense has in place regarding vaccination of U.S. service members, their dependents and civilian employees at U.S. military installations abroad.

“While the vaccination effort is well underway domestically, I am concerned that those Americans serving abroad will be left behind on vaccination efforts — and this is a concern I have heard from Michiganders as well,” he wrote. “Many of these installations are located in areas which continue to suffer from high rates of COVID-19 infections and are struggling with their own vaccine distribution efforts.”

Peters also wrote, “Our brave men and women and their families are serving abroad in defense of our nation, our freedoms and our values. Ensuring they are vaccinated against this virus not only protects them, but also better prepares service members to continue their service safely and effectively.”

Whitmer, Gilchrist applaud administration

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II released statements after the Biden administration sent a letter to Michigan announcing that it has taken steps to ensure greater access to health care under the Healthy Michigan Plan by removing Medicaid work requirements.

These requirements were put in place under the Trump administration.

“The Biden administration’s decision to uphold crucial access to health care is life-changing news for the tens of thousands of Michiganders who were in danger of losing their health coverage if the requirements were implemented,” Whitmer said in a statement. “No one deserves to be kicked off their health insurance when they need it most, especially in the midst of a global pandemic and historic recession.

“As (Michigan) Senate Democratic leader, I was proud to work across the aisle to pass Medicaid expansion, and this year over 1 million Michiganders obtained health insurance coverage during the Health Insurance Marketplace open enrollment period or through our expanded Medicaid program. As governor, I’m grateful to have a partner in the White House with the same goal of improving health care access for Michiganders. President Biden is already making good on his promise to begin expanding access to affordable health care, and I look forward to continuing to work with his administration to keep Michiganders healthy and ensure everyone has access to the care they deserve as we make our way out of the pandemic.”

Gilchrist said, “The Biden-Harris administration’s letter to Michigan is a step in the right direction to expand and protect access to health care for more low-income Americans and an important milestone for health and racial equity. By working towards protecting and strengthening Medicaid, President Biden is helping the vulnerable Michiganders who lost their job during this pandemic — who are disproportionately Black, people of color and women — retain health insurance.

“Particularly in the wake of the uncertainty around COVID-19’s long-term health impact, eliminating Medicaid work requirements is a crucial measure to safeguarding the health of Michiganders of all backgrounds.”

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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