The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 1:00 am

Michigan surge worries health chief

Sutter: Rise occurs despite vaccination rates; variant cited


Allen County's top health official is expressing concern that a surge of COVID-19 cases in Michigan will spill into northeast Indiana.

County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter said an outbreak that started in eastern Michigan's “thumb” has spread across Indiana's neighbor. National health authorities have called Michigan's surge the worst in the nation.

Sutter provided the information during a meeting Monday of the county health department's executive board. He said the surge is occurring even though Michigan has a higher rate of vaccination than Indiana – about 26% of residents are fully vaccinated, compared to about 22% in Indiana.

“That's not what we were expecting to see” as vaccination rates rise, Sutter said. “This is concerning. We're starting to see some of this coming down into northwest Ohio, but it hasn't really come across to Steuben and LaGrange (counties) yet, although we've seen some in LaGrange.”

Adding to the concern, he noted, is that hospitalizations in Michigan are also rising.

It was thought that because the virus was striking younger, unvaccinated people it would not cause severe illness, he said. But, he said, Michigan's hospitalizations and intensive-care use are about the same rate, “and maybe even more,” than they were during the winter surge, when those in older age groups were hard hit.

Sutter said the reason is unknown, but it could be related to the prevalence of the B117 variant in Michigan. That's the strain of COVID-19 discovered in the United Kingdom late last year.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week the variant is now the most prevalent circulating in the United States. They said the variant is more contagious and deadlier than others but still appears susceptible to vaccines.

B117's prevalence in Michigan is 57% compared to 44% nationally and 23% in Indiana, according to the CDC.

Sutter said Michigan is more aggressive in sampling for the variant than Indiana, which he said samples about 1% of cases. The variant is found 70% of the time any variant is found, but it's not known what percent of all cases are caused by the variant, he said.

Sutter said it was too soon to know which way Allen County will trend in cases and hospitalizations. Both have seen a slow, steady rise but no “dramatic” increases, he said. 

Allen County on Tuesday reported 58 additional cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths that occurred over multiple days. The county now has 39,406 confirmed cases and 673 deaths.

Indiana reported 733 new cases and eight new deaths Tuesday, bringing the totals to 705,459 cases and 12,826 confirmed deaths, with 408 additional deaths based on symptoms but without a positive test.

Allen County's seven-day positivity rate for all tests stood at 7.7% on Tuesday, while the state's is 5.2%.

At a glance

Fully vaccinated residents

Adams: 7,038 (27.4%)

Allen: 84,375 (28.8%)

DeKalb: 8,328 (24.3%)

Huntington: 9,080 (30.7%)

Kosciusko: 14,709 (23.4%)

LaGrange: 4,985 (17.6%)

Noble: 8,850 (23.6%)

Steuben: 9,516 (33.4%)

Wabash: 6,937 (27.3%)

Wells: 5,980 (27%)

Whitley: 7,620 (28.1%)

Source: Indiana Department of Health

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily