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By Carol Stiffler

When the ball dropped to begin 2021, a new year began, but the COVID pandemic continued. It morphed throughout the year, as the B.1.1.7 variant emerged, then a vaccine became available, then the Delta variant usurped all others.

Completing a full pandemic year gives us a chance to analyze data and see what 2021 was like locally, in COVID terms.

Michigan’s COVID data for 2020 began on March 19, 2020, days after the first cases were found in our state (March 10, 2020) and the first death was logged (March 17, 2020). Knowing what we now know about data, this indicates the virus was in Michigan for weeks or more before it was discovered, as deaths are a lagging indicator. According to the CDC, the median amount of time it takes to die from COVID is 18.5 days after the first symptoms were found. Hypothetically, the person who died on March 17, 2020 first became ill on February 27, 2020, and was exposed to COVID days prior to that.

COVID activity was much higher across the Upper Peninsula this year than last, likely the work of the more-contagious Delta variant. Luce County boasted an impressively high testing rate, but also the lowest vaccination rate and highest infection rate of counties within our region.

By comparison, Ontonagon County – the county closest in population to Luce – had a 38% higher vaccination rate than Luce this year, and a rate of infection that was nearly 50% lower. However, Ontonagon had seven more deaths than Luce County this year, a figure likely due to the higher average age in Ontonagon County. The average age of an Ontonagon resident is 58.6; Luce’s average age is 44.7. A report from the CDC indicates that a person aged 50-64 is 25 times more likely to die of COVID than a person aged 18-29; a person aged 65-74 is 65 times more likely to die than someone aged 18-29.

Regarding the testing rate, it was calculated as if each resident was tested only once per year. Though that is not likely to be the case, it is interesting to note that none of the counties studied completed as many tests as they have residents in either 2020 or 2021.

As 2022 nears, bringing with it the promise of the extremely contagious Omicron variant, there is reason to hope. Reports indicate the new variant has so far been found to be milder than the Delta variant, and treatments continue to advance. In addition to monoclonal antibody treatments, pharmaceutical companies are developing drugs aimed at lessening the severity of illness. The CDC has recommended a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines – in preference over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – in defense against Omicron as well.

It is now clear that COVID is a long-haul situation, though scientists and health care workers are working tirelessly to ever improve our odds.