Rising case counts and positive test rates are behind the changing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
Latest guidelines from the CDC calls for wearing masks indoors – regardless of your vaccination status – if you live in a “high risk” or “substantial risk” area. That’s all based on case rates in your county.
Three northern Michigan counties are in high risk communities: Alpena, Kalkaska and Montmorency. The list of substantial risk counties is now over two dozen – and it includes Grand Traverse County, along with Charlevoix, Crawford, and Mason Counties.
Dr. Christine Nefcy is the Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer. “Our cases per 100,000 are up to 69. That is important because it does put us in that CDC category of ‘substantial spread.’”
Guidance from the CDC is all based on the numbers. And the numbers are on the rise. Dr. Nefcy says, “We are seeing the variant here in northern Michigan. And what are learning is and even a few positive cases can cause a much higher spread than what we had in the past.”
Medical experts say with the Delta variant, the mortality rate seems to be about the same, but it is much more contagious. “What we do know about the Delta variant is that it is highly contagious – much more so than the original strain,” Dr. Nefcy says.
That’s a factor in the CDC guidance. If you live in a “high-risk” or “substantial risk” area, they’re advising you to wear a mask indoors – even if you’ve been vaccinated. “While the vaccines are quite protective against serious illness, you are still at somewhat of a risk with the new variant,” according to Dr. Nefcy. “This is why the CDC has changed their recommendation regarding masking.”
District Health Dept. #10 Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Morse says, “We really suspect the Delta variant is more widespread than we expect at this point.” And District Health Department #10 take the advice one step further. “Rather than worrying about what your county’s rate is at the moment, it’s probably just safest to mask when you’re indoors, in crowded areas especially.”
Health officials say that many of those people who are testing positive for COVID and the Delta variant are people who are visiting northern Michigan. But those test results follow people back home – so you won’t see those numbers reflected here locally. Dr. Morse says, “Those numbers will not count towards our Michigan numbers, so that can be a little deceiving. So we may have much higher numbers than what’s being counted.”
Meanwhile they’re reminding people that vaccination reduces the risk of hospitalization or death. But the risk from the virus is still there. Dr. Nefcy says, “COVID- 19 has a 20x more lethal rate than just the common flu. Anybody that tells you this is just the flu: not true.”
A month ago there was a fear in the medical community about a possible surge in northern Michigan case counts, due to the influx of visitors over the 4th of July holiday. Dr. Morse says, “I don’t think we noticed an appreciable surge after the 4th of July. But we are getting quite a few more cases now.” She adds, “Quite a few of them are from out of state. Or from out of our local area.”
Dr. Morse was also asked whether the Delta variant had contributed to any rise in people getting vaccinated. “Not a large increase in vaccinations because of the variant. But many who come in do say they’re here because of the variant.”
Meanwhile Dr. Nefcy says Munson Healthcare is now near a 70% vaccination rate for all staff. “We have just over 69.3% of our eligible employees who are vaccinated.” She says that includes all employees and eligible workers, and Nefcy has said in the past that rates for front-line staff, doctors, and nurses are higher.
If you have been exposed to someone with COVID, the current recommendations are as follows: If you are fully vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine, as long as you are symptom free. However, you should get tested 3-5 days after exposure. Testing too soon (before three days) could result in a false negative test result.