New Omicrom variant and up-to-date numbers and information on COVID-19

FLINT, Michigan — “It’s not a political thing, it’s not a Democratic thing or a Republican thing. It is a human thing,” said Tonyetta Aikins in reference to how politicized the COVID-19 vaccination has become. Aikins was among the many attendants at the Genesee County Health Department vaccine clinic at Shiloh Missionary Church.

Aikins brought her nine-year-old daughter to receive her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. “Kids are coming down with COVID too and I wanted her to be safe,” she stated. “I got [the vaccine] mine too. With school, kids want to be out and around with their friends and peers, I think it is the right thing to do. Her [India’s] school had to shut down for a week because of a COVID incident and she has to have her first shot before she can go back.”

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Flint, residents are seeking locations to obtain the vaccine to protect their children and themselves.

India Aikins waits with her mother Tonyetta Aikins after receiving her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.Current Local Numbers 
Local hospitals are at maximum capacity with increasing COVID-19 cases and with flu season starting. Hurley Medical Center released a statement on November 21st  that stated, "We and other hospitals in our area are operating at extremely high capacity. This is due to COVID-19 and the many other illnesses and injuries we must care for. As a result of this high volume, you will experience the following in our Hospital, Emergency Department and Urgent Care clinics; wait times longer than usual, surgeries and procedures may be deferred to a later date, visitor restrictions, and a prolonged stay in the ED waiting for a bed in the hospital.”

Courtney Childers, the mother of Dylan (age 9), Preston (age 8), and Charlotte (age 7) holds her children while GCHD registered nurse Joanne Herman provides COVID-19 information.In the last week, HMC had eight pediatric positive COVID-19 cases and 99.4% of the hospital beds are occupied. Currently, 52 out of the 60 ICU beds are occupied and 311 out of the 313 beds are full as well. The week of November 12th, the 32 adult bed ED at HMC had 129 positive covid cases, which is the equivalent of the emergency department being filled four times over with only COVID-19 cases.

Children hold each other's hands while receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.On November 28th, The New York Times reported 365 positive daily cases of COVID-19 in Genesee County. On November 11th, the numbers reported by NYT were much lower at 199 positive cases per day equating to a 64% increase over the last two weeks. On average, two people die every day from COVID-19 in Flint.

The Omicron Variant
The Omicron Variant was found in South Africa, in the least vaccinated continent. In Africa, 10% of the population has been vaccinated in comparison to the 64% in North America and 62% in Europe. The dangers of the variant are not just the unknown symptoms or the way it responds to the vaccines, but as long as the virus is allowed to mutate, the further the rest of the world is from moving past the global pandemic.

The leading causes of low vaccination rates in South Africa (which is the higher vaccination numbers than other countries in Africa) are due primarily to misinformation. The detrimental effects of misinformation spreading globally have incredible impacts, even in our own backyard. Other causes of low vaccination rates in South Africa are also due to low supplies and the medical community having to heavily rely on donations while the western countries have a surplus in the supply of vaccines and personal protective equipment.

Scientists say that it is too early to determine the exact symptoms of the Omicron variant and its severity. Countries around the world are announcing border closures to South Africa and its bordering countries to hopefully prevent a mass spread, but 13 new cases were found in Amsterdam’s International airport.

Ways to Stop the Spread
Preventative measures to help mitigate the virus are masks for vaccinated individuals in public indoor spaces and masks for unvaccinated people in all public places, limit travel unless fully vaccinated, wash your hands, and add your phone to Michigan’s exposure notification system to receive alerts when you have been in close contact with someone who later tests positive for COVID-19. 

On November 29th, the F.D.A. authorized booster shots for anyone over the age of 18 and had previously authorized anyone over the age of 65 to receive the booster as well. 

The GCHD website has a clinic list of upcoming pop-up clinics and ongoing vaccine clinics as well. 

Local Partnership 
In their ongoing fight against the pandemic, the Genesee County Department continues to partner with local churches and organizations to host vaccine clinics. 

Michigan United provides up-to-date information from the CDC to GCHD at the pop-up vaccine clinic hosted by Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.Michigan United is one of the local organizations partnering with the health department. Michigan United, a nonprofit that fights for justice and equality, works to bring health navigators, vaccines, and education into several neighborhoods in Flint to remove barriers and access issues for residents. Michigan United health navigators are trained alongside GCHD employees and provide support to the staff and offer further resources to county residents.

Dr. Joyce Ellis-McNeal, a Michigan United employee stated,“Our public health navigators come in and assist the nurses. They could be doing anything from keeping time, helping with MICR, and they are trained alongside the nurses. So when the nurses are short, they can step in and keep the traffic moving perfectly. What they also do is give updated and accurate information from the CDC to the public to keep our conversations free of misinformation.”

McNeal also mentioned that Michigan United is also able to set up mobile clinics and provide at-home vaccinations to residents who are struggling to make it to the clinics or are hindered by any other barrier. “We’ll pop up and do it right in your front yard,” said McNeal.

“Parents love their children and don't want to risk their beliefs on their kids, they want to protect their children and get the vaccine which also prompts them to get vaccinated,” said McNeal. “Parents are overprotective of their children and they'd rather be safe than sorry when it comes to their kids. I think that is what is going to drive the vaccination numbers up.”

For more information on the vaccine as well as the dates, times, and locations, visit: gchd.us/vaccinescheduler

Read more articles by Jenifer Veloso.