Health officials concerned about potential COVID cases

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SOUTH BEND, Ind.— As many mask mandates are being lifted, and COVID-19 cases across the US are beginning to increase, the CDC and local leaders are urging caution.

St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox says that recent COVID data has grabbed his attention.

“Back at the beginning of April we were at the lowest point we’ve been in a year probably and we’ve seen about a 4-fold increase in cases since that time,” Dr. Fox said.

In St. Joseph County, Dr. Fox says we were down as low as 23 COVID cases per 100,000 people a week in the beginning of April. Now, he says we are just shy of 100 cases just this past week.

At last check, according to the Indiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, there has been an uptick in infections by 112, sitting at 306. 12.2% percent of those being reinfections in the Hoosier state. Active cases in total sit at 2,089.

Another update will be provided at 5 PM, and then again on Wednesday and Friday.

Dr. Fox says it’s not just these cases that’s cause for concern, but hospitalizations locally are starting to climb back up again, too.

“I suspect we haven’t seen the peak of this but hopefully it’s more of a ripple than a significant impact on health care infrastructure and hospital beds that we’ve seen previously,” Dr. Fox said. “We can’t ignore it. We don’t necessarily need to do anything differently but certainly people with Increased risk ought to consider wearing a high-quality mask if they’re interacting in public, large crowded indoor spaces because the likelihood that someone in that crowd will be infected is pretty significant.”

As for Michigan, while many counties are in the green for transmissibility, you still see cases rising in some spots.

In Berrien County, the 7-day percentage for new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people currently sits at 57.4%. The 7-day percentage for hospital admission sits at 3.9%.

In St. Joe, Michigan, it currently sits at 0 for new COVID-19 cases in a 7-day average. At last check on Sunday, 0.8% is where new COVID-19 hospital admissions were at.

Dr. Fox says that he did expect a bit of an uptick in cases, since spring break falls in the month of April for many students and families. However, now that mask restrictions are easing on public transit, there’s concern for an even larger hike.

“Absolutely it’s a cause for concern because it was a decision not based on public health or on any metrics, it was a political slash legal decision,” Dr. Fox said.

As of last Monday, there is no federal requirement to wear a mask on most forms of public transit. The Biden Administration is trying to appeal this decision, and if it does, the DOJ can seek an emergency injunction to put the mandate back in place while they wait for a decision.

While there’s a lot of focus on airplanes, Dr. Fox says he's actually more concerned about transmission on local bus routes.

“There is a differential impact because they do not have the same quality of air exchange. Often, has a disproportionate impact on lower socioeconomic status of individuals who rely on public transportation and are faced with that same challenge of there’s only so much they can do to protect themselves if others aren’t willing to play their part.”

Dr. Fox says that while we haven’t seen the impact of this yet, we could see it over the next week or so.

He also says he has some concern about the new CDC metrics that reflect community transmission, since it’s heavily weighted on hospitalizations and infrastructure on hospital beds. Dr. Fox says because of this, that we’ll see an increase in cases way before those metrics shift, which can be misleading if someone is making a health decision based on this metric.

For more information on COVID-19 data in Indiana, you can click here.

For COVID-19 data in Michigan, you can click here.

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