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COVID infections trending higher in Western U.P.

Graphics courtesy of CDC Data suggests over the course of 2023 the percentage of emergency department visits related to respiratory illness in the state of Michigan have increased. COVID cases statewide have seen increases over the holiday season and into the new year.

HOUGHTON — According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data tracker, positive test results for COVID increased just over 12% between December 17 and December 23, 2023.

Closer to home, Cathryn Beer, health officer and chief executive at the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, said that in the five western U.P. counties, COVID has been on the increase since early October, 2023.

“But it’s actually kind of plateaued a little bit,” she said. “We’re usually seeing anywhere between 70 and 100 cases a week. It really just varies.”

Beer said that while reported new cases have plateaued, they are still trending upward.

Over the past month, the average number of new cases reported has been between 90 and 100 per week. U.P. wide the average is close to 300 new cases per week.

Unfortunately, said Beer, one of the things the WUPHD is struggling with in regards to new cases and reporting is that in-home tests are not counted, so the new case reports are based primarily on hospitalization rates and lab-confirmed tests.

The increase is due to a number of factors, Beer said, ranging from more people staying indoors due to weather, the university returning to class and holiday traveling.

“A lot of the traveling and stuff really spreads things around,” she said.

Beer recommends the same strategies for protecting against contracting the virus that were emphasized in previous years.

“Stay home if you’re not feeling well,” Beer advises. “Again, the doubling down on washing your hands, if you’re immune-compromised, talk with your health care provider on whether a vaccine would be right for you.”

Beer said that owing to variants and subvariants in the Omicron virus, updated vaccines are now being offered.

“The new updated vaccines are targeted at the Omicron variants, because those are the most prominent,” Beer said. “Omicron is a variant of COVID-19. There is a whole lineage of Omicron from the COVID,” she said.

In Sept. 203, the CDC announced a new updated vaccine which, according to a Yale Medicine report, offers protection against Omicron subvariants.

The new shots are expected to keep more people from getting seriously ill with the virus through the winter, when infections and hospitalizations tend to tick upwards, Yale Medicine reported in early October. And unlike the spring booster that targeted people ages 60 and older, these updated vaccines are for everyone ages 6 months and older.

Johns Hopkins Medicine’s online article, COVID-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know, says that the updated COVID-19 vaccine is based on the XBB.1.5 variant. The updated vaccine is made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax. This season, only one shot of the vaccine is needed for most people, and there are no boosters.

There are many who choose not to get COVID vaccines, arguing in favor of natural immunity. One study, published in The Lancet on Feb. 16, 2023, found that protection from past infection against re-infection from pre-omicron variants was very high and remained high even after 40 weeks. The same study cautions, however, that protection was substantially lower for the omicron BA.1 variant and declined more rapidly over time than protection against previous variants. Protection from severe disease was high for all variants.

“The immunity conferred by past infection should be weighed alongside protection from vaccination when assessing future disease burden from COVID-19,” the report states, “providing guidance on when individuals should be vaccinated, and designing policies that mandate vaccination for workers or restrict access, on the basis of immune status, to settings where the risk of transmission is high, such as travel and high-occupancy indoor settings.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine’s report says that:

“Natural immunity is the antibody protection your body creates against a germ once you’ve been infected with it. Natural immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 is no better than vaccine-acquired immunity, and it comes with far greater risks. Studies show that natural immunity to the virus weakens over time and does so faster than immunity provided by COVID-19 vaccination.”

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