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Too early to link rise in infections to 3rd wave, officials say

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Keith Misiak, pharmacist at The Drug Store, draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Monday at the pharmacy in Alpena.

ALPENA — As the number of COVID-19 infections continue to increase, public health officials from the state and local health departments say they are monitoring the data closely.

District Health Department No. 4 officials on Monday reported 28 new or probably infected Alpena, Presque Isle, and Montmorency County residents. District Health Department No. 2 did not update their COVID-19 dashboard as of press time, which reports the data for Alcona County.

John Karasinski, director of communications with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said a combination of factors are contributing to the increase, including more contagious variants of the virus, increased mobility, and a general sense of fatigue within the public.

Karasinski said people are letting their guard down and not following preventative measures the way they may have in the past.

“It still may be a little too early to define whether this is a third wave or surge,” he said. “However, the amount of cases as well as hospitalizations is very concerning to us. We’re hopeful with the vaccines being available, which was not available in the fall and winter, that that can help curb the rate of growth for the peak we could experience right now.”

Lynn Sutfin, public information officer with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email to The News, state health department officials are seeing increases in infections from teenagers and younger adults.

“We are seeing increases in cases and hospitalizations in those 10-19 and in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, which is different from previous periods during the pandemic when cases and hospitalizations were higher among those 65 plus,” Sutfin said in the email. “We have identified outbreaks in schools, sports teams, manufacturing and construction and long-term care.”

In Northeast Michigan, District Health Department No. 4 officials reported that of 276 COVID-19 infections reported to the Health Department from March 2 to March 23, about 20% of them were between the ages of 13 and 19. DHD No. 4 serves the residents of Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, and Cheboygan counties.

Karasinski, with the MHHA, said the association is seeing younger adult patients being admitted to hospitals, such as those ages 30 to 39 and 40 to 49.

In Northeast Michigan, MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena Marketing Manager Staci Chroninger, said none of the confirmed COVID-19 patients in the hospital were between the ages of 30 to 39 and 40 to 49. Chroninger said there were three confirmed positive patients in the hospital on Monday.

It wasn’t until March 22 that vaccine priority groups expanded to include those 50 years old and those 18 and older with disabilities or medical conditions that place them at a higher risk of severe illness.

MidMichigan Health administered its 50,000th dose of the COVID-19 vaccination last week, which hospital officials said is a milestone for the health system.

MidMichigan Health’s vaccination team have held nearly 300 vaccination clinics in Alpena, Gladwin, Midland, Mt. Pleasant, and West Branch since distribution of the vaccine began last year.

Lydia Watson, chief medical officer and senior vice president of MidMichigan Health, said in a press release that, the excitement hospital employees witnessed at its vaccination clinics has been nothing short of amazing.

“We have all seen and experienced tears of joy, shared words of gratitude, and overall sighs of relief,” she said. “We know that this vaccine has given our communities the hope we have been waiting for and we intend on ensuring all those that need a vaccine will receive one.”

Richard Bates, regional vice president of medical affairs at MidMichigan Health, said in an email to The News on Friday that, at about 40%, Alpena County has one of the highest vaccination rates along with much of Northeast Michigan.

Meanwhile, state officials encourage Michiganders to remain vigilant.

“It is critical that we not let up now and remind Michiganders to continue to mask up, wash their hands, social distance, get tested, and get vaccinated as soon as it is available to them,” Sutfin said in the email.

Sutfin said in the email the presence of more infectious variants threaten the state’s progress in control of the epidemic. She said MDHHS will be monitoring data closely and make decisions on three key metrics, including case rates, percent positivity, and hospitalizations.

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