AMID THE FRUSTRATION, disappointment, and anxiety that’s resulted from the increasing numbers of COVID infections in Marquette County and the UP, is this one bright and noteworthy fact:
There have been no reported COVID deaths in Marquette County for the last 12 weeks. None.
So, Question #1 for Dr. Kevin Piggott, the medical director of the Marquette County Health Department. Why the absence of recent deaths and can we be encouraged?
It has to do with age, he explains. “All the deaths in Marquette County have been in the two age groups of 70-79 and 80+,” he says.
And what we’ve seen over the last few months is a steady decline in the age of those who’ve come down with COVID infections. In April the average age was 73; in August so far, it’s been 43. Younger people, it appears, are much less likely to die from COVID.
A second factor is that a high proportion of deaths have occurred in congregate settings–as happened at the Norlite Nursing Center early on–and over the last few months, restrictions tightened up. The result? No new deaths.
A word of caution, though. Dr.Piggott says very recently, there’s been an increase in older people coming down with infections–that could, unfortunately, lead to more deaths.
Question #2. The first batch of tests at NMU showed a very low rate of positive infection rates. That’s good, right?
“Yes. However, the first groups of people tested were primarily staff, faculty and students who live here locally in the community,” Dr. Piggott explains. So that’s a reflection of Marquette County more than anything else. The next batches to come through, from students outside the local area, will likely show a higher rate of infection.
Question #3. Weren’t we expecting a big surge in cases after the July 4th holiday week? And it really didn’t happen, did it?
Well, it kind of did. It generally takes about three weeks before cases start getting reported. During the July 4th week, Marquette County recorded 11 new cases. Three weeks later, it was up to 12…Four weeks later, it climbed to 23…Five weeks later, it was 19 new cases. So, yes, there was a mini-surge after July 4th.
Question #5. Should we be concerned about sending younger students back to school?
Short answer, yes. “Even with the best laid plans, there remains a potential for a significant outbreak,” Dr. Piggott says. The Health Department is meeting with school superintendents weekly to come up with plans to handle possible outbreaks once school resumes.
Question #6. Kids seem less likely to contract the COVID infection, and are less likely to get very sick and die. Right?
Yes, yes, and yes.
“So far in the UP, children under 18 represent about 8% of all cases (of infection),” Dr. Piggott says. That’s very low.
Their illnesses are generally less severe, and one additional bit of positive news–children under 10 seem less likely to transmit the disease to others.
Final Question. So why is that? Why are children apparently less impacted by COVID?
The answer is not entirely clear at this point. Several theories are being explored, none have been proven.
So, bottom line is this: We have a few reasons to be mildly encouraged by trends in Marquette County, but we have ample reason to remain vigilant…and anxious…as a new school year gets underway. You can be sure we’ll be watching the numbers closer than ever.