New cases of COVID-19 on the rise in Kalamazoo County

Testing has increased, but so has percentage of positive results, which officials blame on people refusing masks and other health care guidance.

The number of positive tests for COVID-19 in Kalamazoo County is increasing, averaging 7.6 a day over the past three weeks, with local health officials blaming “a lack of compliance” with measures that had once slowed the spread of the virus.

Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services (KCHCS) data published at 3 p.m. Monday showed 1,160 positive cases – that’s 160 new cases in the past three weeks, and at least 67 new cases since July 7.

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“We can say that we have seen the trend. The past seven days we have seen that seven-day moving average increase,” said KCHCS Epidemiologist Mary Franks. “The percent of tested who are positive are increasing. That’s indicative of a true actual increase not just a testing event.”

Due to successful curtailment of the virus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had relaxed preventative measures imposed by previous executive orders, but on Monday new mask and other regulations went into effect in response to the cases rising statewide.

Kalamazoo is not showing as bad as Kent or other more populous counties, but Franks said that was also the case during the first ramp up in April and Kalamazoo eventually caught up.

“The onset of symptoms is between two to 14 days, so we are always seeing a lag in the data and if we see a super spreader event we know others are exposed. But we did see a later increase compared to other areas in the state, especially compared to Grand Rapids, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that trend is replicated in this round,” Franks said.

Two months ago the trend was going the opposite way, a slow decline in daily new cases and a seven-day snapshot of the data averaging less than five new cases a day, Franks said.

“We saw that for weeks,” Franks said.

To get back to that rate, the community needs to do the same thing – wear masks and practice individual and group social distancing.

“We can’t point fingers at one thing in particular, we have seen a lack of compliance from a lot of people in the community,” Franks said. “With warmer weather we are seeing bigger gatherings like grad parties and weddings, a hesitancy to limit the number of guests, to practice social distancing, and not wearing masks.”

Those who are following recommendations by health officials, such as wearing masks and limiting interactions with people outside their household, do not have to worry, said Franks. It just means they have to continue “limiting your risky behavior” even longer.

“It’s those high-risk behaviors like going to a July 4 party with hundreds of people and no one is wearing a mask, it is things like that,” Franks said. “This isn’t going away and it hasn’t gone away. We are still in the midst of a pandemic and seeing plenty of transmissions occur through asymptomatic carriers.”

Franks said that local businesses have generally shown “great compliance” with regulations aimed at slowing down the pandemic, though not all. “Unfortunately some entities and some businesses are hesitant to do that and in such a large county you can’t police all of that all the time. It is up to our citizens and business leaders to take the lead on this.”

Franks said sometimes politics come into play, or the pandemic’s portrayal in the media lead people to be less safe, or those who don’t know anyone who has gotten sick or died from covid-19 are less apt to believe in its severity.

“The data is there. The science is there,” Franks said. “We are just encouraging everyone to follow pretty basic guidelines.”

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