Grand Traverse County Case Surge Leads to School Changes
"We’ve seen some big, rapidly developing outbreaks." - Dr. Jennifer Morse
Munson says they continue to see what they call a “steep rise” in their percent positive cases – there’s also a rise in hospitalizations. Meanwhile it’s also affecting the school age population.
Munson says their two-week average for percent positivity is above 15 percent. Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Nefcy says, “On a rolling two week average we’re at 15.2%. Last week we were at 10.7%. That rate, that 15.2% is the highest we’ve seen during this pandemic.” She adds, “We continue to see a pretty steep rise in our percent positive in our community, and as a result of that a rise in the number of our hospitalizations.”
Dr. Nefcy says the vaccinations are having a positive effect, however. “You can really see the people that are being hospitalized are those that are not immunized.”
The Grand Traverse County Health Department says they’re averaging five to six new cases every day – a spike they haven’t seen in months. Grand Traverse Co. Health Dept. Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger says, “All our metrics are rising and have been rising fairly rapidly over the last month. Our current seven day average is 39. So we’re starting to see numbers like we were in November and early December.” She adds, “Just in the last week we’ve had 43 school age cases that we’re in the process of doing case investigations and contact tracing.”
“Our percent positivity over the last month rose from 3.6% to 11.4%”, Hirschenberger says. That’s one of the factors in the decision late Monday to keep students in grades 7-12 home for virtual learning. “We’ve been monitoring very closely as our cases have gone up in the community in GT County… We’ve been seeing more and more cases in middle and high school-age students.”
And case investigation and contact tracing takes time – with students supposed to return to school Tuesday they just didn’t have the time to spare. Along with the return from Spring Break there are just too many unknowns. “In addition to the recommendation from Governor Whitmer about schools going virtual after Spring Break, then the CDC and Health Dept. also recommending post-Spring Break quarantines… combine that all with … the fact we’ve had 43 school age cases in the last week.”
“We also know there was a large testing event (Monday at TC Central) … and we know that sports testing started yesterday as well. Combine that all together and the school superintendents were really looking for direction,” Hirschenberger says. They’ll have another conference call later this week with area superintendents. “We hope in the next four days we’ll be able to get a clearer picture of where the cases are. Maybe we can narrow it down to some schools, but for now we needed that four days to focus on seeing whether the trends will continue to increase in school age kids or start to level off.”
Other health departments are leaving it up to the schools to make the call. Dr. Jennifer Morse is the District Health Dept. #10 Medical Director. “I have 71 school districts through my 19 counties and I meet with them once a week… we’ve provided them with decision-making tools.”
“If there were a public health reason we felt they needed to close we would advise that, but it’s mainly based on what they feel they need to do for the best education of their students,” Dr. Morse says. She adds, “We have kind of left it on a school by school basis. We have not recommended they go virtual but we support whatever decision they make. Many – well all – of our schools are very rural and many do not do well with virtual.”
Health experts say the surge in cases could very well be linked to the variations of COVID – like B-177. Dr. Morse says, “It’s like someone dropped a powder keg of COVID off in a location. So we’re seeing an extremely rapidly evolving outbreak in locations. Or a rapid spread of COVID in locations.”
Dr. Nefcy says, “These variants are highly contagious. Way more than what we were seeing originally.” She adds there are many factors, which may include student sports programs and loosening of restrictions for indoor dining. But she says “these are unvaccinated young people who are sort of driving this surge.”
Munson also announced revised guidelines for self-quarantining after possible COVID exposure, which had been rolled back from 14 days to 10 days. Dr. Nefcy says, “Because of increasing case rates as well as the frequency of the variants we are reinstating the 14 day quarantine for close contacts of people with COVID-19.”
Dr. Morse adds, “We have seen cases develop on day 11 or beyond of exposure, so people have already left quarantine and have exposed others and caused spread of illness.”
The Grand Traverse Co. Health Department is also announcing Satellite Vaccine Clinics coming to various sites throughout the county. The first will be in Fife Lake Township on April 16th from 10am to 5 pm.