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Can Michigan get COVID-19 curve down enough for new restrictions to end after 3 weeks?

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun says state’s hospitals are 79% full on average

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her Nov. 19, 2020, COVID-19 press briefing.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her Nov. 19, 2020, COVID-19 press briefing. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – Can Michigan get its COVID-19 curve down enough over the next three weeks to avoid extending the new temporary restrictions on restaurants, schools and other parts of the economy?

READ: Michigan hospitals filling up as COVID-19 case, positivity rates continue to soar

Gov. Whitmer was asked that question Thursday after Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, revealed alarming statistics about the state’s hospitals filling up and public health system getting overwhelmed.

“Our hospitals are closer and closer to becoming overwhelmed,” Khaldun said. “They are on average 79% full, and they are becoming more and more full of COVID-19 patients. Michigan, in fact, has the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the country, behind Texas, Illinois and California.”

Coronavirus in Michigan: Here’s what to know Nov. 19, 2020

Khaldun said case rates in Michigan currently range from 418 COVID-19 cases per million people in the Traverse City to 934 cases per million people in the Grand Rapids Region.

The Traverse City Region has the lowest test positivity rate, at 9%. The Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo regions have the highest test positivity rate in Michigan, at 16%.

On Thursday, Michigan reported 7,592 new COVID-19 cases and 134 additional deaths, bringing the state totals up to 285,398 cases and 8,324 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

“What are the chances that you can get the curve down to 3% by Dec. 8?” Whitmer was asked. “A lot of people think that the chances are basically slim and none.”

Whitmer referenced a 3% positivity rate when asked about what officials are looking for during the state’s three-week “pause,” which began Wednesday (Nov. 18) and extends through Dec. 8.

“If we see meaningful movement in the right direction, that is possible,” Whitmer said. “That shows that we are capable of getting our arms around this.”

Throughout the summer, Michigan hovered around a 3% test positivity rate, which health officials consider a “contained spread” of the virus.

Currently, with the positivity rate more than three times that level, Michigan is experiencing “community spread.”

“Right now, there’s no question that it is out of control, community spread, all across the state of Michigan,” Whitmer said. “Almost 14% at the last report that we had. That is inherently dangerous. If we can get this moving in the right direction -- I think that is very possible.”

She said it’s all dependent on Michigan residents following COVID-19 protocols: Wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from others, avoiding gathering and washing hands frequently.

“That’s the thing that we can’t quantify and predict completely accurately,” Whitmer said. “We are tired -- all of us are. We’re frustrated. We don’t want to be doing this anymore, and yet, until those vaccines are readily available in probably the second quarter of next year, we just have to continue taking this seriously.”


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