By Carla Bumstead
“If you want your children to go back to school this fall, wear a mask now,” is a key part of the message area health officials are trying to impress upon the Eaton County community. Over the past two weeks, the county has seen a surge in the number of COVID-19 infections. As of Wednesday, July 8, Eaton County was listed as being at Level 2, i.e. “high risk,” according to the state’s tracking data as reported at mistartmap.info. As of the same date, the total number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in the county was 348, with seven deaths.
Anne Barna, a public information officer at the Barry Eaton District Health Department (BEDHD), said the most recent statistics are concerning.
“In Eaton County, one in four of the people who have ever been shown to have the coronavirus got it sometime in the last two weeks,” Barna said, in a July 7 interview. “I think this definitely speaks to a resurgence in Eaton County.
“We are now at ‘high risk,’ and Eaton County has really seen an increase comparable to mid-June.”
Barna said the increase in cases means people need to make sure they are following all the recommended guidelines aimed at limiting the spread, including wearing face masks whenever one is in public.
“Being at a high risk level means that according to state guidelines, if school were to be held tomorrow, it would have to be done completely remotely.”
She stressed that wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing is crucial for everyone, regardless of age.
“When it comes to looking ahead and what school will be like in the fall, we need parents, kids, grandparents and childcare providers to be wearing masks now and maintaining social distancing.”
She said the increase in Eaton County is likely related to several factors.
“We are seeing more out-of-state travel to places that have more spread, but that is really only a part of it. We are seeing it spreading in workplaces, at get-togethers and parties — for example graduation parties and Father’s Day celebrations.”
In addition to the increase in the number of cases, health officials are also seeing a shift in who exactly is carrying the virus, as more young people are testing positive.
“Younger people are getting greater access to tests, and we know they are less likely to be symptomatic. It remains to be seen whether the increase in rates in young people will lead to increases in older adults. But basically, the more virus in the community, the worse it will be for those who are more vulnerable.”
Barna added that area health officials are thankful that testing is now widely available in the county.
“Back in the beginning (of the epidemic), when testing was not widely available, people had it and we didn’t know it. But now we can do our jobs and monitor and track those who do test positive.”
BEDHD is the entity responsible for doing “contact tracing” for anyone who does test positive for the virus.
Barna said she believes most county residents are doing their best to follow guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.
“The vast majority are trying their best and are doing what they can, such as wearing masks in indoor, public spaces and trying to keep track of social distance. But we do have people that are not following the guidelines.
“This is going to work the best when everyone participates. Wearing a face mask is about respecting other people. It is a show of courtesy to those around you. It basically says you are willing to ‘keep your germs to yourself.’”
She added the health department’s overall message to the community is “thank you” to those who are following the guidelines and to ask others to join them.
“We can’t do this on our own. We need everyone to step up and stop the spread.”