Ingham County Health Department: “This virus has spread in the community.”

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Monday, March 30, 2020, 7:45 am
Alice Dreger

Photo by Ben Bosanic.

“This virus has spread in the community.”

That’s the conclusion of Linda Vail, MPA, Health Officer for the Ingham County Health Department, based on the numbers her department is seeing for cases of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Test results of the coronavirus are rising steadily now in Michigan’s Ingham County, the county in which most of the City of East Lansing is located. The graph below shows the total count by day from March 12 through yesterday, March 29, with a current total of 45 cases.

Graph by Ali Erani for ELi.

But these numbers underestimate the real prevalence of the disease in the area.

“This our official count of cases,” Vail explains. “Some [people] are home sick and not going out for testing [following what] is recommended in most cases of mild illness.”

So, “there are definitely more cases in the community than that.”

MSU physician and epidemiologist Nigel Paneth agrees with that conclusion: “Right now, [testing is] pretty restrictive, which means we have an undercount.”

In some cases, tests are also taking a very long time to produce results. One community physician reports having ordered a test for a sick colleague two weeks ago, with the results still not returned. (The physician who was ill self-quarantined and has now recovered from symptoms.)

Vail says that of the 45 cases known to the County:

  • of those, 6 have recovered completely, so 39 are active cases.
  • at present, 13 of the people infected are hospitalized.
  • “A few others had been hospitalized, have been released and are recovering at home. So of the 39 active cases, 26 are home with mild illness.”

Vail explains that these are the figures coming via mandatory reporting.

“Sometimes our numbers are a bit ahead of the State because they only update their website once per day, yet we continue to get reports of new cases a few times per day,” she said, answering questions from ELi by email.

The county is not being notified by physicians and labs of who is being tested. So the Ingham County Health Department is unsure how many tests have been done and of those, how many have been positive or negative.

“The State is trying to fix that,” Vail explained, “but it's complicated for all our providers to comply with that while they are overwhelmed. So, that's a work in progress and I can't tell you how many tests have been done and how many are negative. At this time, I only know positive test results with no idea how many total tests have been reported back.” © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info