The new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases just keep adding up.

Over the March 27-28 weekend, the Tuscola County Health Department recorded 88 new positive cases, then added another 46 on Monday. There also has been one additional death. To date, the county has recorded 3,490 positive cases and 131 deaths since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. That means about 7 percent of the population has tested positive for the virus during that time and 0.02 percent of the population has died.

The number of new positive cases raised in testing pushed the county’s positivity rate from 21 percent last week to 30 percent by Monday, while the state’s positivity rate was at 15 percent.

“They (the numbers) are not going in the right direction, we know that,” Ann Hepfer, county health officer, told the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, “especially since the positivity rates are so high.”

Hepfer said the Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac and St. Clair county area has had the highest positivity rate in the state for several weeks. Both Huron and Sanilac have recorded 31 percent positivity rates. St. Clair is about 30 percent.

“This isn’t just Tuscola County,” she said.

That trend is being recognized across the nation, with national media asking local officials why the Thumb’s positivity rates are so high.

“It is very obvious that we have a problem,” Hepfer said.

The growth in positive cases is in the 50-and-under age group, which has led to an increase in hospitalizations among people in that age group, and an increase in ventilator use. Deputy Steve Anderson, the county’s emergency services director, said Wednesday, there were only six available intensive care unit beds left in the region. This was after Covenant Health System opened up four just for COVID-19 patients. 

Hepfer said there’s also been a jump in age-35-and-under cases, and in 10-19-year-olds in the schools. She thinks the latter jump is due to sports. 

“Those kids do not get as sick,” she said, “so we don’t have people getting extremely ill from that.”

Some variant cases of the virus also have surfaced, though Hepfer said the current vaccines work against the variant being found locally.

“It is what we expected to see,” she said. “And we can’t blame it on one thing. There isn’t one thing causing this. It is the virus. It spreads rapidly and when we kind of let our guard down, this is what happens.”

District 5 Commissioner Dan Grimshaw asked Hepfer who is being tested. Hepfer said it is people who are going in for surgery, people who have had contact with someone else who tested positive, people who are showing symptoms and people who want to be tested. “It is a mix of everyone who is getting tested,” she said.

Because the testing isn’t random, or total, he said, the figures are misleading. All of the people tested in the past 10 days, he said, amounts to only 7.2 percent of the county’s total population.

“You’re only getting 30 percent positive in the people suspected of having it,” he said. “That is critical. We are not on the threshold of a pandemic that is going to kill. This is overblown.”

Getting only 38 people a day testing positive with COVID-19 out of a population of 52,939, he said, “is not a pandemic rush.”

Her only goal, Hepfer said, “is to prevent this infection from spreading. We are adding to the spread of the infection. All we are trying to do is to reduce that spread of the infection.”

If the health department didn’t take these steps, she said, there would be no stopping the virus.

“If we didn’t do anything,” she said, “we’d have mayhem.”

Hepfer said the three steps – wearing masks, keeping social distance and washing hands – are vital, followed by vaccinations. Vaccinations will get the county to the 70 percent threshold for herd immunity.

And all vaccines get used in a week, she said. The health department does about 400 vaccinations daily Mondays through Thursdays. She said they’ve been giving the Johnson and Johnson vaccines to the hospitals because the health department more easily can bring people back for a second dose than the hospitals can. So the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier for the hospitals to dispense.

In the next few weeks, she said, more and more pharmacies will be offering more vaccinations.

“We are going to see capacity increasing,” she said.

Starting next week, she said, any Pfizer vaccines the health departments receive will be split between Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac counties to vaccinate ages 16-17.