Munson Provides Regional COVID-19 Update
New tier for vaccine could start March 1st
COVID numbers in northern Michigan are still declining or holding steady across the region. That’s good news for the hospital system and local health departments. 9&10’s Bill Froehlich has more from Munson Healthcare’s community update – and what they want you to know about testing, the vaccine, and side effects.
You may have noticed that flags are at half-staff at state and federal office buildings, to recognize the 500,000 Americans and the 15,000 Michiganders who have died from COVID 19. Meanwhile, Munson Healthcare says the numbers are continuing to trend in the right direction. Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Nefcy says, “The good news is that our percent positive rate and our cases per 100,000 continue to decline and head in the right direction. Along with that decline in our number of community cases, we have seen a significant decline in the number of inpatients.”
Grand Traverse County Health Dept. Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger says, “For Grand Traverse County we are seeing a low percent positivity right now. We’re actually at 2.6% which is the lowest I’ve seen it in 5-6 months.
The numbers are good for northern Michigan – but health officials are still recognizing the effect of COVID-19 locally – and across America. Hirschenberger says, “We’re averaging lower numbers, less than 10 cases a day. Typically in the last week. We did hit a milestone unfortunately of 4,000 cases in Grand Traverse County. We’re currently at 4,018. And we do have 65 Grand Traverse County residents who have died from COVID-19.”
Dr. Nefcy says, “We did reach a grim and heartbreaking milestone as a country overnight. We did crest over 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.” In comparison, 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish Flu in 1918. Fewer than 13,000 died from H1N1.
Locally, we’re seeing improving numbers – but not without some problems. Dr. Josh Meyerson is the Medical Director for the Benzie-Leelanau Health Department and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. He says, “We have had some outbreaks related to family gatherings, through sports, unfortunately.”
Vaccine clinics continue – now left mostly to local health departments. Dr. Meyerson says, “This week Northwest will be giving over 2,400 doses of vaccine. Benzie-Leelanau has gotten over 700 doses to give.”
Vaccine supply is still limited. Munson is not scheduling any new mass vaccination clinics, and says the state is still allocating the bulk of vaccine to the locations where it’s needed the most. Michigan is using a “Social Vulnerability Index” from the CDC in its vaccine distribution. It includes factors like socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, housing and transportation issues. Dr. Nefcy says the state is “using all of those as an algorithm to decide who gets how much vaccine, and where.” She adds, northern Michigan and Munson are “still getting vaccine. We just aren’t getting it in a volume enough to justify standing up a big mass vaccination clinic.”
Vaccine is diverted somewhere else- proportionally to where it’s most needed. “The population-dense areas in southern Michigan are going to get more vaccine than we do. They have more people.… And one of the things the state is also looking at is how hard hit those areas were.”
As more residents receive their second doses of the vaccine, health officials say side effects are not unusual and shouldn’t stop you from getting the shot. Hirschenberger says, “You’re naturally probably going to have a stronger response on the 2nd dose than you did the first dose, but that means your immune system is kicking in and it’s a good thing.”
Dr. Nefcy agrees. “Nothing outside of what we’d normally see for any vaccine that’s given. The common things are feeling fatigued and having a sore arm. Which is certainly something you see with many other vaccines.”
And while it hasn’t gotten as much attention recently – testing is still available as well. Hirschenberger says, “We have a testing site over at Cherryland Center in Traverse City. And we did bring back testing every Monday and Tuesday from 9am to 5pm.” You should make an appointment for testing.
Some providers are charging for testing with office visits. Dr. Nefcy says “The testing itself is still free but if you are evaluated; say you have symptoms and a provider feels like you need to be evaluated for those symptoms to assess how severe they are, you will be charged for the visit and the assessment and exam around that. And then there’s they asymptomatic testing without exposure. There are some places that are providing that as a service. But there is an assessment that is with it. So it’s not actually the testing itself, it’s typically the assessment around that, that is being charged.”
Up next – expanded availability for the next group of essential workers, starting March 1st. “The plan is on March 1st to expand the tiers a bit. Not only would the age be lowered to 60 if you have risk factors… (but) also to agricultural workers. People who are farmers. Our food production people. People that help us put food on the table, through food processing. Whether that’s meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit. People that do beverage production. Animal feed. All those people who do with foundational work to get food on our tables will be included in the Tier starting on March first.”