Members of local fire departments deliver the COVID-19 vaccine March 31 in the drive-thru vaccine distribution center at Lakeside Mall.

Members of local fire departments deliver the COVID-19 vaccine March 31 in the drive-thru vaccine distribution center at Lakeside Mall.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes


COVID’s impact continued to loom over Sterling Heights in 2021

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 22, 2021

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Spikes of COVID-19, a vaccine rollout, the resurgence of major recreation events, local economic investments and an election that picked all incumbents were a few of the major stories that impacted Sterling Heights in 2021.


COVID-19 persists amidvaccine availability
It goes without saying that one of the biggest issues that drove news events was the continued fight against COVID-19.

Around a year after COVID-19 initially shut down or restricted many of Sterling Heights’ city buildings and services, city officials played a role in bringing vaccines into locals’ arms. In the first half of the year, the city opened up vaccination centers at its Senior Center and at a temporarily leased drive-thru venue at the former Sears auto center at Lakeside Mall.

Meanwhile, due in part to the rise of the more contagious delta variant, hospitals and urgent care centers continued to experience patient increases that reportedly have stressed their systems.

Dr. Michael Khoury, chief medical officer at Beaumont Hospital, Troy, said there has been a steady increase of COVID cases since the middle of summer, and it has been “a more exponential increase” over the past couple of weeks, prior to early December. He said the Beaumont Health System was seeing up to about 630 COVID patients, compared to fewer than 100 in July.

“At Troy Beaumont, we have been running around 5-20 in the summer, and we’re up to about 130-140s,” he said. “This surge is starting to get close to where we were on the second or third surge.”

Khoury explained that the second surge peaked in December 2020, when cases were around 700. He said the third surge peaked in April 2021, with cases slightly over 800.

As a result of the occupancy increase, he said, it’s been “incredibly challenging” for the staff, adding that the hospital has been “asking our staff for quite a while to pick up extra shifts.” He said that the hospital has offered some incentives for recruitment and retention, but he said that it’s getting harder now for people to pick up extra shifts.

“People are getting tired and burnt out,” he said. 

Likewise, urgent care centers are also under increasing stress, he said. He explained that many “people in school with simple fevers are being sent to urgent care to have tests,” placing a burden on such facilities.

“We’re seeing, in Macomb County, our testing positivity rate has gone up to almost 20%. In Oakland County, it was almost up to 15%,” he added. “We’re seeing many more positives.”

Khoury said the fourth surge is very real and is testing the health system amid a manpower shortage. His message to the public is to get vaccinated.

“The majority of patients who are hospitalized are unvaccinated. The ones that are hospitalized that are vaccinated are much less sick,” he said. “It prevents hospitalization and death. Please get your booster. If you’re going to be indoors and (in) large gatherings, please mask up and take the necessary precautions.”

 

Many recreation programs and events return 
While most of Sterling Heights’ recreational events and activities were canceled in 2020, many of them came back in 2021, such as Sterling Frights Halloween and A Sterling Christmas. 

Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois said 2021 was a good reminder of what the city’s events and programs mean to the community, adding that he got plenty of positive feedback from residents.

“We saw a great rebound,” Langlois said. “Although we weren’t able to hold all events and festivals like we had in the past, we were able to reintroduce Music in the Park concerts, and our Halloween and Christmas events, and pull them off in pure Sterling Heights fashion. We were able to operate like we didn’t miss a beat.”

Although the city didn’t hold a summer Sterlingfest Art and Music Fair this year, it held an Oktoberfest in early October that featured major musical acts that originally were scheduled to appear for the canceled 2020 Sterlingfest. Langlois said his department has not had any internal conversations on whether the Oktoberfest tradition will carry over to 2022. 

The city’s Community Center also saw a resurgence in 2021, and Langlois said officials are starting to see what the future holds for the building and its programs. He said some people are still seeing the building for the first time, and he envisions it as a place to hold blood drives, school district-related functions and more. 

“Unfortunately we’re not back to 100% functioning capacity, but we are prepared and ready for 2022 to take us to that next level,” he said. “We brought in the esports arena. That is one of the huge highlights of 2021, bringing in new concepts, new trends to serve an ever-growing and diverse demographic of our residents.”

 

Sterling eyes economic investments
Sterling Heights Senior Economic Development Adviser Luke Bonner listed several trends that affected the overall economy in 2021, including COVID-19, inflation and supplier shortages. 

“But overall, if you’re looking specifically in Sterling Heights, from a local economy standpoint, it was a really, really, really good year,” he said. “We continue to see industrial investment, a lot of residential investment ... and a lot of retail investment. And that goes to show some really good resilience in the city.”

Bonner said that Sterling Heights saw in 2021 the most building permits and highest value of building permits within the last five years. 

As far as the future of Lakeside Mall, Bonner said, the city is continuing to prepare and perform due diligence with the mall’s ownership. Bonner said no major developments have emerged for the property’s future. But he believes that the mall property’s future is “going to be very exciting,” especially given the recent new and upcoming businesses popping up along M-59, near Schoenherr Road, such as Portillo’s, Total Wine & More, Shake Shack, and Jollibee. 

“That should be a really good indicator of what the future of Lakeside will be like,” Bonner said. 
 

Election center returns, council incumbents reelected 
In Sterling Heights, election officials managed a Nov. 2 election in which all seven incumbents on the City Council were reelected — this time for four more years.

But the changes to how many residents voted in 2020 due to COVID-19 persisted into 2021. After the November election, City Clerk Melanie Ryska said there was a 32% increase in absentee ballots compared to the prior council election in 2019.

In an email, Ryska explained that the city’s election center, which formed in 2020 to assist voters, came back. She called the election center, which was most recently stationed at the Community Center, a “great practice” that will continue into next year. She also noted the election drop boxes, which are placed in all four quadrants of the city to help voters submit their ballots and absent voter applications.

“In an era where there is so much doubt in our electoral process that stems from mis- and dis-information, I am extremely proud that the City has worked to maintain voters’ confidence in the integrity of our process,” Ryska said in an email. “I thank each and every voter who reaches out to me or my team to get answers to their questions, rather than succumbing to untruths about the process that are so widely spread.”

Ryska added that the clerk’s office will keep being transparent about how elections work. She said it plans to use social media, articles and public forums next year to continue to educate voters. 

“This will hopefully curtail much of the mis- or dis-information that we experienced in 2020 and will further enhance our voters’ confidence in our democratic process,” she said.

Find out more about Beaumont Health System by visiting www.beaumont.org. Learn more about Lakeside Mall by visiting www.shop-lakesidemall.com.

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