Greater Lansing continued to top nationwide lists of metropolitan areas with the highest rates of COVID-19 transmission in the country this week, prompting local health officials to urge caution after cases and hospitalization rates across Michigan more than doubled in the last two weeks.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said part of those preventative measures should include avoiding spring break travel and pausing in-person learning at local schools.
“We understand that people are ready to get back to normal and start traveling again,” Vail said. “However, COVID-19 cases are surging in our county. Health experts across the country are gravely concerned about what we may see following spring break. Delaying travel is the safest course of action. If travel is not avoidable, testing and quarantine are strongly encouraged.”
Vail also “strongly recommends” only remote learning for grades K-12 across Greater Lansing this week to prevent continued viral spread. The “one-week pause,” as Vail described it, should also be combined with rapid testing for students who traveled during spring break, she added.
“Looking at our percent positivity, case numbers and hospitalizations, I am deeply concerned,” Vail said, noting, however, that she remains “hopeful” as vaccines continue to be doled out. Nearly 250,000 shots have been put in arms across Greater Lansing to date, state data shows.
Michigan’s seven-day average of new cases reportedly doubled since March and is resting at its highest point in 2021, with a statewide average positivity rate of about 17% on Tuesday.
The state ranked worst in the nation in new cases per capita over the last 14 days, with the Thumb region as well as Macomb and Jackson counties with the highest transmission rates in the country for the second consecutive week, according to reports from The New York Times. Lansing, which includes neighboring East Lansing, was ranked fourth-worst nationwide, along with six other Michigan metropolitan areas ranking in the 10 worst outbreaks nationally.
Last week, Ingham County tracked its highest number of weekly COVID-19 deaths since January. Nine died between March 22-28, compared to eight over the last four weeks combined.
Vail also cited a 300% increase in virus-related hospitalizations over the last month, with at least 148 people hospitalized in Ingham County this week. Local positive test rates also topped 20%.
Though travel is discouraged, Vail said those who leave the state should wear face masks, socially distance, wash their hands regularly and get tested before and after their vacations. Those who choose not to get tested should self-quarantine for 10 days after they return.
Rapid testing for returning travelers is being offered at the Ingham Intermediate School District’s campus in Mason on Sunday (April 11) and April 14. Visit inghamisd.org for details.
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Anyone 16 and older is eligible to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine in Michigan. Though no out-of-pocket costs can be charged, providers can still seek insurance reimbursements. The Ingham County Health Department began seeking those this week.
Mass vaccination efforts continued at the Michigan State University Pavilion, Dwight Rich School of Arts and the Ingham County Fairgrounds this week, in addition to multiple targeted one-day events to reach people who are at high risk or who face barriers to vaccine access. To date, the Health Department has offered those special, one-day events in 37 locations.
Residents who live or work in Ingham County are encouraged to register with the Health Department as well as other providers. Visit tinyurl.com/CoVaxRegistration for more details.
Michigan’s first case of the P.1 COVID-19 variant, which originated in Brazil, was detected in a Bay County resident late last week. Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said she was “concerned” about the discovery of another variant locally.
“It is now even more important that Michiganders continue to do what works to slow the spread of the virus,” Hertel said in a release, urging residents to get vaccines. “We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic as quickly as possible.”
The P.1 variant has been associated with increased transmissibility and there are concerns it might affect both vaccine-induced and natural immunity, state officials cautioned this week.
More than 172 cases of the variant have now been detected in 22 states. Michigan has also identified at least 1,468 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and seven cases of the B.1.135 variant.
Vaccines reportedly work against this new variant, as well as the others. Viruses constantly change though mutation and health officials expect new variants will continue to form over time.
The Lansing City Council announced it will continue to meet virtually until caseloads decrease.