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St. Clair County is now at a “high risk” level for COVID-19

Photo courtesy of St. Clair County Health Department/Facebook On Jan. 20 the health department put out a COVID-19 announcement stating the county was now at a high-risk level for the virus.

Dr. Mercatante: good news is cases may be reaching a plateau

By Barb Pert Templeton

An announcement from the St. Clair County Health Department yesterday regarding COVID-19 stated that the county is currently in the “High” risk level due to having over 100 cases per 100,000 people.

Dr. Annette Mercatante, medical health officer for St. Clair County Health Department did a live update even on the county’s Facebook page addressing the latest numbers, testing, and masks. 

She said changes in the last seven days reflect over 2,000 new cases and about 200 daily cases, with testing positivity between 35 to 37 percent.

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“We are higher than we’ve been before, higher case counts and higher everything than what we’ve had previously in the pandemic,” Mercatante said. “It’s everywhere, every zip code in our county has high levels of transmissions at this time.”

While that may be a harsh reality, there are some early signs that cases could be reaching a plateau based on state findings that show things might finally be leveling off. 

“Clearly we anticipate a rapid decline of cases and we hope that’s true,” Mercatante said.

Noting the current mask order in place Mercatante said information is encouraging and that the mask order has been effective. 

Utilizing statistics from when children returned to school without masks in the fall and the increase in cases at that time led them to predict that the number of cases in January, without a mask, would be 85 cases per day. In reality, they are only seeing about 35 per day now, which doesn’t prove anything outright but it’s moving in the right direction, Mercatante said.

“So, that’s all good and I want to remind people that our goal was to keep kids in school and so far, knock on wood, all of our schools in the district have stayed open for in-person learning since the first day,” Mercatante said. “So, there are a couple of promising and encouraging pieces of information.”

Vaccination data still reflects the county is behind the eight-ball with numbers but they are still giving out a couple hundred more each week and about 1,000 more boosters are given weekly.

Photo courtesy of St. Clair County Health Department/Facebook
Dr. Annette Mercatante hosted a live Facebook event to update the public on the status of the omicron virus in St. Clair County.

“We are making some progress, it’s painstakingly slow,” she said. “Vaccinations remain the single most important way we can build resilience in our community against COVID and further COVID strains.”

Testing guidelines 

The talking point for Mercatante’s update was at-home COVID testing as the government just recently announced that everyone will be eligible for four free test kits to be mailed to their homes.

She said the proper time to use an at-home test or the county’s rapid test is when you have symptoms such as respiratory issues, sniffles, sore throat, headache, or a cough. If you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19 a test should be done on day five after the exposure. Other reasons to test would be before you travel and before you go into indoor high-risk settings

There are also testing sights across the county beyond the health department where people can get a test including pharmacies and at your own primary care physician.

The mask mandate situation

As to the public order mandating masks that expires on Jan. 28 Mercatante said in order to extend it, they would have to formally reissue a new order. She said they are still looking at the data and speaking with the schools, the board, and all involved before a decision is made.

“We are looking at the information closely, none of us favor putting orders in place we know that it’s divisive and contentious and causes a lot of conflicts so we’re looking at that data very closely,” Mercatante said. 

The things that will be considered related to the mask mandate will be data including expected cases versus actual, the omicron surge locally and state-wide, community partners, how are hospitals doing and how are the supplies holding up, and then of course speaking with educators. 

“Remember our goal with this is not to stop the spread of omicron it was to blunt the impact it was having on our schools and our school-age children,” Mercatante said. “To make sure they stay in school and continue in-person learning as much as possible.” 

An audience member asked Mercatante why masks are in place when her grandchild has been wearing one and was out of school sick all week showing they don’t stop viruses.

“They don’t stop viruses they reduce viruses; they reduce the amount of virus that can get to your child’s respiratory system over a short or prolonged period of time,” Mercatante said. “But we do know that masks help a great deal; vaccines work great as well and in fact if anything between masks and vaccines I’d say vaccines are a much more impactful approach to reducing the spread, but we don’t have enough people vaccinated either.”

To view the program in its entirety, visit the St. Clair County Health Department page on Facebook. 

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