TAWAS CITY – Local COVID-19 cases are on the downswing ahead of the holidays, according to Scott Izzo, an epidemiologist with District Health Department No. 2 (DHD2), who cautioned that the pandemic is still not over yet.
Izzo said that at one point Ogemaw County, which is one of the four counties in the DHD2 district, had the highest COVID-19 rate in the state. The district includes Iosco, Alcona and Oscoda counties, along with Ogemaw.
“To put it into a term you can understand, five weeks ago we had 400 cases on the week across four four-counties,” he said. “That’s a ton and that’s just the beginning of the disease process.”
Izzo said when you have a case where there are 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 it actually means there is a larger amount in the community. He said that includes people who may be sick with the disease, and people who are sick, but asymptomatic and do not know they are event sick.
As of Monday DHD2 reported that there were a total of 8,425 COVID cases in the four-county region. Of those 3,285 were from Iosco County, the highest in the district, followed by Ogemaw with 2,880, Alcona with 1226, and lastly Oscoda County with 1,034.. There have been 18,299 vaccinated in the district as well, and 239 deaths attributed to COVID. Data states that 94 of those deaths were in Iosco County.
“We are sitting at a 40 percent asymptomatic rate, they can get it and not even know,” Izzo said. “There is such a wide range of experiences for people who have it. Maybe this person doesn’t struggle with it, but maybe someone who gets it does struggle with it. That is the concern, trying to keep people from spreading the disease. Izzo said that it why it is so important to follow quarantine guidelines if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
But according to Izzo, although five weeks ago the numbers were up into 400 cases, they’ve nearly been cut in half.
“So by the end of last week we have been seeing steady decreases,” he said. “Last week there were only 218 cases for the week, across the four counties. That is still high, and we are still at the highest transmission level of the Center for Disease Control’s community transmission level.”
Right now the CDC puts Iosco County at “high transmission,” meaning that In Iosco County, Michigan, community transmission is High Transmission. This means that there are around 100 new cases of COVID-19, with around 10 percent of tests coming back positive. At this level the CDC recommends everyone should wear a mask in public indoor settings. According to Izzo, there have been much testing of those who think that they may have been infected with COVID, whether it is a test for an active infection or those who wish to test for antibodies. He said at-home tests, such as the BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen self test.
Izzo said with the holidays coming, along with the colder weather and social gathering activities like hunting camps, it could mean the rise again for positive infections.
“We will have a lot of people in close contact, so that kind of stuff does increase and we may see another surge or spike; we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to see here, it could go down and we could have a relatively easy winter, or it could pop back up again,” he said.
He said much of the increases over the summer, which he considered relatively low in cases, could be attributed to the COVID-19 Delta variant. He said the area began to be hit hard with delta in June and the beginning of July
Izzo said delta has led to reinfection for people, especially those who have not been fully vaccinated with the Food and Drug Administration Pfizer vaccine, or the FDA emergency use authorized Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
“We do pick up a couple of breakthrough cases (in tracking cases),” he said. “But the vaccine is five times more effective than natural immunity. So if you’ve had COVID last year and you’re relying on natural immunity to protect you this year, unfortunately we are seeing cases of reinfection.”
Izzo said that DHD2 tracks breakthrough cases, and said since the start of those being vaccinated. He said that they are sitting at around 160 breakthrough cases for the health department district.
Izzo said that although data supports that there are far fewer transmissions of COVID-19 to people who have been vaccinated, and far fewer deaths, there is high public scrutiny of the vaccines and their effectiveness.
“With it being such a big thing, and people having such a high expectation of what it should be able to do, that is what is playing into it,” he said. “There are people who get into an argument, and they make it political, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of these things (vaccinating individuals) are what we’ve done for decades.”
He said for example we have flu vaccines that people thing are great, though it’s only 65 percent effective, when COVID vaccinations are hitting much higher at 85 percent effective. Izzo said that no vaccine in existence is 100 percent effective and when the COVID-19 vaccines rolled out, it was not stated that no one was subject to a possible breakthrough case.
Izzo said people who think that getting natural immunity from COVID-19, but trying to get infected, should not do so.
“I would say that people who feel like ‘I’ll just get it’ to get the natural immunity, you first have to have COVID, and that’s rolling the dice on becoming extremely sick with possible complications,” he said. “People may argue that there are problems with the vaccine, such as myocardial enlargement (swelling of the heart). Earlier this year there was a lot of focus on that.”
Izzo said heart swelling is one of the possible side effects of COVID, among other side effects that can hurt individuals, including permanent lung damage.
According to some, social media posts claim to purport that the COVID vaccines are killing individuals who get them. Izzo said that anecdotes that were reported to the Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System (VAERS) allegedly show that many have died from the COVID vaccine. The VAERS system is in place to track adverse effects to all vaccines, but just because an adverse effect is reported to the system, does not mean that it came from taking the vaccine, Izzo said.
“VAERS is a very important tool when you are talking about a vaccine that is given to millions of people,” he said. “It helps identify side effects that happen in a very small amount, but people are just looking in there and assuming it is all true, and assuming what is reported is a direct result of the vaccine, a lot of the stuff is just reported by community members, it’s not something that is identified and diagnosed.”
He said causation is not evidence of correlation, or just because a vaccine was administrated does not mean it led to the adverse effect.
According to the CDC, reports of death after COVID-19 vaccinations are rare and of the 432 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that were administered in the United States from Dec.14, 2020, through Nov. 8, VAERS received 9,549 reports of death (0.0022 percent) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccines.
The CDC said the FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause.
“Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines. However, recent reports indicate a plausible causal relationship between the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine and TTS, a rare and serious adverse event that causes blood clots with low platelets, which has caused five deaths,” according to the CDC.
Izzo said the bottom line is the best information a person can get about a vaccination, whether to get it, and any other health matter is to consult their trusted family physician or primary care doctor. He cautioned taking social media reports at face value.
He said there are people at the health department who can answer questions about the vaccine, COVID and the newly approved booster shots for the public. For those who want to get either their first does, or their booster doses, they can call the health department by calling 1-800-504-2650.
According to Izzo, right now the health department is giving all three vaccinations and booster shots, and the public can choose which shot they would like to receive. There is no cost to getting the shots.
Izzo said to look to DHD2.org or their Facebook page, for ongoing COVID information for Iosco County, and the DHD2 district.