Wednesday, Oct. 7 marked six months since COVID-19 first hit Mason County.
The first case in the county was confirmed on April 7. Since that day, Mason County has had 132 total cases, with 111 recovered as of Oct. 9, according to the District Health Department No. 10 data dashboard.
Based on numbers from the Michigan Disease Surveillance System — an official reporting system used by the health department — there were 10 confirmed cases in April, 22 in May, 14 in June, 39 in July, 22 in August and 13 in September; each confirmed case is an individual who tested positive for the virus.
While it is possible for a person to recover from COVID-19 and later contract it again, it’s rare and doesn’t usually happen within the first three months after the first infection, according to Jeannine Taylor, public information officer for the health department.
No particular age demographic was hit more than another. Of the seven different age ranges, lowest rate of infection was for ages 70 and older at 12 percent, and the highest rate was for ages 50 to 59 at 23 percent.
The county’s first death was announced on Monday. Oceana County has had six deaths and Manistee has had three. Lake County has had no deaths. The health department said there was not a specific reason why Mason County has only recently had its first death.
For a death to be counted as a confirmed COVID-19 death with the health department, the person must have tested positive for the infection and died during the case investigation, COVID-19 was indicated as a cause of death on the death certificate or they died within 30 days of a COVID-19 infection and the manner of death was listed as natural, according to the health department medical director, Dr. Jennifer Morse.
Local health departments are charged with protecting the health of communities by preventing the spread of diseases, encouraging healthy behaviors, responding to disasters and assuring the quality and accessibility of healthcare.
District Health Department No. 10, like Michigan’s other health departments, has adapted during the duration of the pandemic, including re-evaluating staffing, financing, emergency preparedness and more, according to Taylor.
The effort has all been to “be able to continue offering public health services while protecting the health of our clients and staff,” Taylor wrote in an email.
“(District Health Department No. 10) continues to face the challenges brought on by COVID-19 head-on. We have certainly needed to re-evaluate many of our plans,” she said.
Since the beginning, the health department has made adjustments to its processes, including the development of a data dashboard, utilization of additional staff and the help of state investigators to assist with contact tracing, according to Taylor.
The health department brought back five retired nurses and reassigned five more staff from other areas to help with the COVID-19 efforts, according to Health Officer Kevin Hughes.
“We are continually evaluating the need for additional staff as we move forward,” he said.
Case investigators also include staff and volunteers from the Michigan Department of Health and Humans Services (MDHHS).
“To assist us with case investigation and contact tracing, (the health department) is utilizing staff and volunteers for case investigation and contact tracing efforts. Utilizing these additional resources had allowed our staff to resume normal … services, including flu clinics. Our plan is to continue utilizing state assistance through the end of the year,” Hughes said.
In a previous interview, Taylor stated contact tracing and data tracking were already in place for infectious diseases. The latest developments with the pandemic have refined those processes.
One change was that the health department now reports any outbreaks in schools to the state. Those outbreaks are posted on the MDHHS website, www.michigan.gov/mdhhs.
In April, the health department developed and published a data dashboard available on its website, www.dhd10.org, which shows the number of cases for the counties in its jurisdiction. In July, the health department started publishing county profiles, which provide additional information about each county’s numbers in comparison to the other counties and the jurisdiction as a whole.
The health department is currently working on developing a public newsletter as well, according to Hughes.
“We are always evaluating ways to communicate with the public on data and public health topics,” Hughes said. “Right now we are working on developing a Public Health Community Alert newsletter that will go out to subscribers to keep them up to date on important public health concerns.”
People can subscribe through the department’s website.
Six months ago, no one could accurately predict the situation the world, country, state or even Mason County would be in by October. Looking toward the future, the Daily News asked the health department for its advice on persevering.
“Continue to follow the mitigation measure we have as they are the best way we can keep the spread of the virus under control. We know it is frustrating and exhausting but hang in there so we can get through this as quickly as possible,” Taylor said.