By Jon King /

Livingston County has entered into a second wave of COVID-19, which local health officials are concerned could adversely affect vulnerable populations and endanger the ability of the county’s schools to continue in-person instruction.

That’s according to the latest report from the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD), which says the second wave, in which case counts and the positivity rate have both more than doubled, is driven by a combination of factors, “including colder weather and the resulting increase of indoor social gatherings, pandemic fatigue, and low compliance with non-pharmaceutical public health interventions, such as social distancing.”

According to a community snapshot, over the past two weeks, there were 797 total cases (an average of 56 cases per day) which is 123% higher than the previous two weeks. Meanwhile, the current positivity rate in Livingston County is 7.5%, which has more than doubled over the past month. While the rate is slightly lower than the overall statewide rate of 8.1%, the report notes that the total number of tests has remained stable over time “indicating significantly increased transmission in the community.”

Combined, the reports says these factors have led to an “immense surge” in community transmission of COVID-19, reaching higher case numbers than those seen in the first wave in early spring. It added that the widespread community transmission has placed tremendous strain on public health capacity throughout Michigan, “stretching well beyond capacity limits,” resulting in a decreased ability for local public health to effectively conduct and keep up with the increased demand for case investigation and contact tracing.

The only upside noted in the report concerned hospitalizations. Over the past two weeks, there were 7 new hospitalizations, which was down from the previous two-week period when 17 cases were reported with a new hospital admission. In addition, over the past two weeks, there was 1 death, “slightly less than the past two-week period (2 deaths).” However, that rate is still much higher than it was in September.

The report goes on to say that while transmission of COVID-19 has not yet been widely observed in Livingston County nursing homes, “there is great concern about this population” as nearby counties have recently begun reporting outbreaks in nursing home facilities due to transmission from community-acquired COVID-19 in staff members. “The Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) continues to work closely with long-term care nursing facilities in Livingston County to provide support and guidance to effectively safeguard our most vulnerable residents.”

Although transmission of COVID-19 within Livingston County K-12 Schools has not been observed, the report concluded that the risk for in-school spread, “increases with widespread community transmission. Many staff members and students infected with community-acquired COVID-19 have consequently exposed large groups of individuals in both public and private school districts. This in-school exposure has led to large groups of quarantined staff and students. While the risk of in-school transmission remains low in Livingston County, the practice of in-person instruction is at risk due to increasing numbers of quarantined students and lack of teachers to provide instruction.”

A communication sent to parents in the Howell Public Schools made that same point, stating that they expect districts around the area to have an increased need for substitute teachers, “which will further strain an already limited resource.” It then advises parents to familiarize themselves with the district’s online learning plan in the eventuality that in-person instruction is curtailed. Similar messages were also sent to parents in the Fowlerville and Pinckney school districts.

Currently, Howell has 8 confirmed cases in the last week; three at the high school and one each at the Freshman Campus, Three Fires Elementary School and Highlander Way Middle School. Another is connected to the Community Theatre of Howell, which is located at the Freshman Campus, with the eighth case associated with the Howell Public Schools Fire Academy, which meets at Brighton Area Fire Authority Station 34 off of Dorr Road in Genoa Township. In Pinckney, there are seven confirmed cases in the last week; one at Pathfinder School and another at Navigator Upper Elementary School. The other five do not have a specific building designation. Brighton has five confirmed cases in the last week, all at the high school, while Hartland has 14 confirmed cases and Fowlerville is reporting one confirmed and two probable cases.

Another factor cited in the report is the so-called Epi Curve, or epidemic curve, a statistical chart used in epidemiology to visualise the onset of a disease outbreak. The chart, provided here, indicates that while there was a temporary plateau in mid-October, “this period of slowed growth was brief, as the epi curve is now most consistent with exponential growth starting in early October. The most recent case count of 215 per million puts Livingston County in the growth phase and, “is the highest incidence to date and places Livingston County in the highest risk category, “E,” as seen on the MI Safe Start Dashboard. This growth resembles most other counties in Michigan.”

As the holiday season approaches, the LCHD is strongly encouraging residents to help reduce the risk of community transmission by social distancing, wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene, and gathering only with household members.

The full report is attached below.