Bay County is struggling to keep up with a surge of coronavirus cases local health officials don’t expect to go away any time soon.
BAY CITY, Mich.—Another week, another 50,000 new coronavirus diagnoses in Michigan.
This means the breakneck pace of viral spread in Michigan continued through all of November, nearly doubling in only one month the number of confirmed coronavirus cases the state had seen in the prior eight months.
Aside from sheer magnitude, the current outbreak of the coronavirus differs in another notable way: The virus has gone rural.
Bay County hugs Saginaw Bay, it is the connection between Michigan’s Thumb and the other fingers of the Mitten. While the largely rural area saw only 200 new cases in September, the number was more than five times that amount in November.
“We probably have nearly 1,000 cases already this month here in Bay County,” county health official Joel Strasz told WNEM in nearby Saginaw. “We don’t anticipate that the recent surge is going to go away any time soon.”
As of Nov. 28, Bay County had reported more than 100 daily confirmed cases per 100,000 residents. The only county in Michigan to have a faster rate of spread was Baraga, a similarly rural bayside county in the Upper Peninsula.
And only time will tell just how bad Thanksgiving–the largest probable superspreader in Michigan–will make things in Bay County.
The impact of Thanksgiving on the confirmed coronavirus cases likely won’t be understood until mid-December, thanks to the virus’ long lag time. At the same time, some cases may plateau, thanks to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s three-week pause on certain high-risk activities, like indoor dining. Regardless, projections remain grim.
The holiday weekend saw three consecutive days of more than 8,000 new cases, and the steady rise in Michigan daily coronavirus deaths is expected to meet dire predictions of more than 100 per day by the end of the year. Data gathered by Harvard following the initial wave of the virus shows a lag time of several weeks between a surge in cases and a surge in deaths. That seems to be holding true in this most recent outbreak, with a steady rise in daily reported cases and deaths.
In total, Bay County has seen nearly 2,000 cases of the virus, most within the past two months. It has also seen nearly 100 coronavirus deaths.
“When we see big increases in numbers like that we know that there’s going to be more people going to the hospitals in a matter of weeks,” Strasz said.
Bay County’s health department is using the TraceForce system, staffed by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services volunteers, to conduct a contact tracing program that notifies people who were close to a person with a confirmed case and encourages them to be tested. Like many protections designed to combat the pandemic, however, contact tracing relies heavily on public cooperation.
And while Detroit is ramping up to administer thousands of vaccines a day when they become available, areas like Bay County often have to make do with far less robust public health infrastructure. Vaccines need to be transported at extremely low temperatures, stored and used quickly. And in rural areas, often this must be done without the kind of resources Detroit hospital systems can muster.
Without strong local participation, getting the pandemic managed again in Bay County will be a monumental task. The local health department encourages Bay County residents who test positive to report their status to anyone they had close contact with, and to self-isolate at least for 10 days and until the fever has been broken for one day. People notified of an exposure are asked to quarantine for two full weeks, regardless of any test results, as early test results may produce false negatives.