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MDHHS, local health depts. cautious of COVID surge in coming weeks

"It's important to always being empathetic if you see someone wearing a mask, because you just don't know their background," said Derel Glashower.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — As the warmer weather finally moves in, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is reminding Michiganders to stay vigilant of COVID-19 at gatherings and summertime events.

They expect a rise in cases during the month of May, as does Derel Glashower, a Senior Epidemiologist at the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. 

"COVID-19 is probably going to be hanging with us for a while yet," Glashower said. "It looks like a lot of the main waves have passed us, but we're still going to be facing some surges into the future."

MDHHS said the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is expected to continue causing a rise in COVID-19 cases in the upcoming weeks. Southeast Michigan is already seeing an increase in cases.

"In Ottawa County, we're seeing some similar increases," Glashower explained. "But, we'll probably continue to be in the CDC's low-risk category for a little while, and our hospital capacities are looking good."

That being said, Glashower said that the change in season is something to keep an eye on.

"I'm excited about warmer weather because often it's associated with a little bit lower COVID-19 activity as people get outside and spread out," he said, "but that also means a lot of us are moving into some of those summertime activities, which correspond also with a potential increase in cases over the next few weeks."

MDHHS is also reminding Michiganders to participate in best practices to reduce risks of COVID-19 and prevent spread at spring gatherings including proms, graduations, and other holidays and to make sure they are up-to-date on vaccines. 

Glashower said it's important to keep a mask handy and continue to test, especially when traveling, because the risk is still out there for some people. 

"You know when you get on an airplane you may be rubbing shoulders with people from lots and lots of different places," he said, "and we just don't know what kind of risk factors people carry, so it's important to always being empathetic if you see someone wearing a mask. Just be kind and respectful, because you just don't know their background."

RELATED: CDC asks Justice Department to appeal judge's travel mask mandate ruling

In a press release, MDHHS also included the following information:

"While we wish we could avoid these types of increases in cases, the good news is we have excellent, effective tools to travel safely and gather with loved ones and prevent severe outcomes from COVID-19," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive. "We encourage Michigan residents to make a COVID-19 plan: have masks and over-the-counter tests on hand, speak to your physician ahead of time to find out if you qualify for treatments if you are infected and make sure you are up-to-date on vaccines. We recommend Michiganders test if they have symptoms or if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and stay home if they are ill."

While cases may increase, hospitalizations and mortality are not expected to rise significantly, given levels of vaccination, boosters and immunity from the recent Omicron spike. Michigan's residents are encouraged to be aware of the increased transmission as they go about their daily lives and make personal decisions on masking and other strategies to protect themselves from COVID-19. Michigan remains in the post-surge recovery phase; however, public health officials continue to monitor the situation closely and will notify the public if anything changes. 

In addition to testing before and after travel, MDHHS encourages residents to test ahead of group celebrations and gatherings, especially when events may include family and friends who have increased vulnerability to COVID-19 infection. A feature on the COVID-19 test finder lists wait times for many testing sites across the state, and many options exist for free at-home testing. 

Free over-the-counter tests remain available to households through federal, MI Backpack Home Testing, many Michigan libraries and Rockefeller programs. Continued testing supports early identification of cases in Michigan's communities and helps limit spread of the virus. If you test positive for COVID-19 isolate immediately, avoid travel and gatherings and seek medical care if needed. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers travel tips – including recommendations of when and where to mask and best practices to avoid illness when traveling. 

MDHHS continues to recommend the use of layered mitigation strategies for Michiganders:  

•    Get vaccinated against COVID-19. Michiganders should get up to date on their COVID-19 vaccine. Learn more about vaccines and when you're up to date at Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine. 

•    Learn about therapeutics. Individuals are encouraged to talk to their doctor about whether they meet eligibility criteria and should get antibody or antiviral treatment if they test positive for COVID-19. Learn more about COVID-19 Therapeutics. 

•    Isolate and quarantine if needed. Staying away from others when you are sick or were recently exposed to COVID-19 are important tools to preventing further spread of the virus. Learn more about what happens when you have or are exposed to COVID-19 

•    Get tested if you are exposed or have symptoms. Anyone with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. If you get tested because you have symptoms or were potentially exposed to the virus, you should stay away from others while you wait for the test result. Find a test site at Michigan.gov/COVIDTest.

•    Take additional steps to protect yourself and others. Protect yourself from COVID-19 by understanding levels of risk, practicing good hygiene and hand washing, staying home when sick and staying up to date with vaccinations. Know your risk; know that others may have a risk different from yours. Respect the choice. For additional guidance on mitigation strategies see How to Protect Yourself and Others.  

•    Get a free mask. Free KN95 masks are being distributed by community organizations, including local MDHHS offices, health departments and Area Agency on Aging offices. Residents who want masks can obtain masks from partner agencies across the state. Michiganders are asked to refer to partner websites or social media sites to find out about mask availability as opposed to calling sites.

For more information on COVID-19, visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirus. 

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