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Complacent attitude toward virus feeds northern Michigan surge

Taylor Wizner

Michigan is in the throes of the worst COVID surge in the nation. For the second straight day, the state is reporting more than 6,000 new cases.

The rapid rise is approaching the peak of last year, even though almost 35% of residents are now at least partially vaccinated.


In northern Michigan, the spread of the virus is especially rampant, particularly in the Gaylord and Cadillac areas. Both Otsego and Wexford Counties report over 20% of COVID tests have been positive in the past week.


What’s fueling the spread of the virus?


While the state has opened up restrictions on dining, offices, and sporting events, public health officials report that changing behaviors are responsible for the massive surge in cases. 


Many infected people are ignoring their symptoms and not getting tested. The rate of people seeking testing is just half of what it was in the fall, according to the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.


The more-transmittable Covid variant is likely contributing to spread as well. Last week several cases of the B.1.1.7 variant (also known as the U.K. variant) were found in Kalkaska, Missaukee, Otsego, Wexford and most recently Grand Traverse County, some areas where Covid is spreading the most.


Who is getting sick and ending up in the hospital?

A month ago, Grayling Hospital, part of Munson Healthcare, had no COVID patients. Now, they have 16. The rise is mirrored across Munson's hospital system, which went from nine patients in early March to 80 in recent days. 

These patients are young adults to middle-aged and often have pre-existing conditions, but now always, says Aditya Neravetla, the chief medical officer at Grayling Hospital. 

Several are very sick and need ventilators to breath. 

Neravetla says hospital staff and equipment are spread thin. They’re again approaching record numbers of COVID patients in the hospital, needing all levels of care.


Are vaccinations helping? And when am I eligible?


Health care workers are not seeing seniors sick with COVID. The vaccine has been keeping those who are immunized out of the hospital.


Neravetla says he’s encountered several patients who were about to get their first dose just before they became seriously ill.

Starting Monday, April 5, everyone over 16 is eligible to be vaccinated Health department officials are filling appointments quickly, but there is starting to be a lag in interest.

If you want a vaccine sign up now.

If I’m coming back from spring break travel or social gatherings, what should I do?

Public health officials say you need to isolate and get tested if you recently traveled. There is a lot of testing available—health departments have added testing at their facilities as well as more pharmacies and clinics. TCAPS is also hosting testing on Monday.

With cases and hospitalizations already so high, public health officials are worried travelers coming back from spring break will only worsen the situation. 

Schools are not expected to close, and state officials have not given any indication that they will impose new restrictions.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.