Get Caught Up: Michigan’s struggle with COVID -- cases, masks, school changes, more

Michigan becomes COVID hotspot as winter arrives

Michigan (WDIV)

This week we saw Michigan return to an unwanted position as the nation’s COVID-19 hotspot.

Coronavirus infections have been on the rise throughout the state since July. Not all health experts agree that Michigan is seeing its fourth COVID “surge” right now, but the latest numbers certainly rival those seen during the surges earlier this spring and last fall.

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Data: Michigan seeing highest COVID case numbers in US

There is a noticeable difference this time around: The number of infections have risen consistently over the last four months, a sustained growth, as opposed to spiking and then dropping over a shorter span of time. With that said, health experts say the numbers are only going to increase from here as people move inside during the cold winter months, and as people gather for the holidays.

Since it’s only mid-November, it’s unclear when exactly the number of COVID infections will peak during this surge. The highest number of daily new cases reported during the surge last fall was 9,799 cases on Nov. 11, 2020. The highest number of daily new cases reported this spring was 8,955 on April 16.

So far this month, the state has reported an average of 4,000 new cases each day, and just this week has surpassed averages of more than 7,000 new cases per day. Michigan was reporting similar numbers ahead of the surge last fall/winter.

Though we don’t know how much worse this surge will get, we do know that, right now, Michigan is seeing some of the worst coronavirus spread in the U.S.

Daily new COVID cases in Michigan

According to data compiled by Covid Act Now -- a group comprised of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts and public policy leaders that monitors and identifies each state’s risk level for a COVID-19 outbreak -- Michigan is reporting more new COVID cases each day compared to any other state.

As of Nov. 17, the state was reporting an average of 71.8 new COVID-19 cases each day per every 100,000 residents -- an average of about 7,174 daily new cases over the past week, according to Covid Act Now.

Update: As of Nov. 18, Michigan has been moved into a “severe” risk category by Covid Act Now due to another rise in its daily new cases. As of Nov. 18, the group says Michigan is reporting 84 daily new COVID cases per every 100,000 residents. It is the only state currently considered to be at a severe risk for COVID spread.

Nov. 19: Michigan reports 17,980 new COVID cases, 128 deaths -- average of 8,990 cases per day, near record

The group considers the 71.8 figure, and anything between 25-75, to be at a “critical” level; anything above 75 is considered “extreme.” Data shows that the state entered the critical level in September, and the numbers have been rising since.

The state has entered the extreme category as of Nov. 18.

From Covid Act Now: Over the last week, Michigan has averaged 8,393 new confirmed cases per day (84.0 for every 100,000 residents). Image courtesy of Screenshot retrieved on Nov. 18, 2021. (Covid Act Now)

Covid Act Now’s data largely aligns with data reported by the state: Over the last week, Michigan officials have reported an average of 6,171 new virus cases each day.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) said Tuesday that the state’s case rate is at 416.3 COVID cases per million residents, an increase from two weeks ago, when the rate was 340.4 new cases per million residents.

According to MDHHS, all counties in Michigan are currently at a high transmission level.

Related: Cases surge in new COVID hot spots of Michigan, Minnesota

Michigan’s COVID infection rate

Michigan has one of the highest infection rates in the nation, according to Covid Act Now.

The state is tied with New Hampshire and Indiana, who all currently have a virus infection rate of 1.19 -- meaning that every person infected with COVID-19 is infecting, on average, 1.19 other people. The research group identifies this infection rate as “high,” and anything above 1.4 is “critical.”

Covid Act Now says that this infection rate indicates that the “total number of active cases in Michigan is growing.” As of Monday, Nov. 15, the state reported an average of 139,000 active COVID cases.

Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island aren’t far behind the three leading states, each reporting a COVID infection rate of 1.17, 1.16 and 1.16, respectively.

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the U.S. with states color-coded according to their "Covid Risk Level." Michigan is labeled as at "severe risk" of COVID spread, according to data. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- Nov. 18, 2021 (Covid Act Now)

Positive COVID test rate in Michigan

Michigan’s positive virus test rate is reportedly the third worst in the U.S. as of Nov. 17, coming in behind South Dakota and Nebraska at 14.3%, according to Covid Act Now. The group says that the figure “indicates that testing in Michigan is limited and that most cases may go undetected.”

However, data reported from the state shows that the positive test rate is actually higher.

Data reported by Michigan officials shows that, over the last seven days, the state as a whole has averaged a positive COVID test rate of 16.85% -- an increase of nearly 3% since last week. This number still does not beat out South Dakota’s positive test rate of 20.7%, which is the worst in the nation.

The MDHHS says that four regions in Michigan have a positivity rate above 20%.

Michigan’s current test rate falls into the “high” category by Covid Act Now. Anything between 20%-40% is considered critical -- and the state hasn’t seen those numbers since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Michigan COVID hospitalizations

More and more people are being hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Michigan.

The number of individuals hospitalized with a COVID-19 infection has steadily risen since the end of August. According to Covid Act Now, 82% of Michigan’s ICU beds are being used by COVID patients, suggesting that “hospitals may not be well positioned to absorb a wave of new COVID infections without substantial surge capacity,” the report reads. “Caution is warranted.”

New data from the MDHHS shows that emergency department visits, hospital admissions and hospital census area are all on the rise. Officials say that as of Nov. 17, 7.5% of emergency department visits are from COVID patients -- an increase from 5.8% last week. The overall volume of COVID patients in intensive care has reportedly increased by 13% in the last week.

The state says that all regions in Michigan are seeing a ratio of more than 200 people per million residents hospitalized with COVID. Admissions have reportedly been rising for nearly every age group.

From MDHHS: Hospitalization trends from March 1, 2021 through Nov. 14, 2021, confirmed positive by region. "The census of COVID+ patients have increased across all regions. Region 2S had the fastest growth this week," the MDHHS report reads. "Regions 2S, 3, and 6 now have greater than 300 people hospitalized per Million population." -- Nov. 17, 2021 (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services)

See more virus hospitalization data and trends for Michigan right here.

Breakthrough cases, deaths in Michigan

Some people are becoming infected with COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated for the virus, but that doesn’t mean that the vaccines aren’t effective or that they aren’t having an important impact on community spread.

At the beginning of 2021 when vaccines were first being administered, breakthrough cases were uncommon -- about 11% of individuals infected with COVID earlier this year were fully vaccinated. Since June, that number has increased to about 20%.

According to data released Wednesday, the MDHHS says that between Jan. 15 and Nov. 5, there have been a total of 77,985 breakthrough COVID-19 cases, 2,009 breakthrough hospitalizations and 944 breakthrough deaths.

Those numbers are nowhere near as high as case and death rates among the unvaccinated: Officials say between Jan. 15 and Nov. 5, there have been 573,160 COVID cases, 15,066 hospitalizations and 6,760 deaths among individuals who were not fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 Vaccination Breakthrough Cases and Deaths. "Trends over time show that both case and death rates among the Fully Vaccinated are lower than the Not Fully vaccinated rates in Michigan," reads a report from MDHHS on Nov. 16, 2021. "The proportionof breakthrough cases and deaths among all cases and deaths has shown some increases as more people become fully vaccinated." Chart courtesy of the MDHHS report. (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services)

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president for Henry Ford Health System, reported Tuesday that 69% of the patients admitted to Henry Ford are unvaccinated for COVID. Health officials also said that majority of people who are in the intensive care unit or on a ventilator are unvaccinated.

MDHHS says that the “risk of infection and death remains significantly lower among the fully vaccinated.” Still, there has been evidence that the effectiveness of the available COVID vaccines wanes over time, as antibodies naturally do. Hence, the push for booster shots -- now for all individuals, and not just those who are more vulnerable to infection and serious disease.

A study from drugmaker Pfizer found that a COVID booster shot restored their vaccine’s efficacy to about 95% in vaccinated individuals.

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old are now eligible to get vaccinated for COVID.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 16, 70.2% of Michigan residents ages 16 years old and older have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, while 61.3% of that age group are considered fully vaccinated.

Related: COVID cases are spiking in Michigan: Why haven’t state officials taken new action?

COVID cases and deaths trends by Michigan county

Why is COVID so bad in Michigan right now?

Michigan’s fourth wave has reached a new height. Our 7-day moving new case average is now 7,353 -- the highest we’ve recorded for the entire pandemic. But why? Why is Michigan experiencing this large and extended surge now?

We want to get some context into what's happening with this sudden surge. For that, we're speaking with Dr. Frank McGeorge who works in an ER and is seeing first hand how bad the situation is. Read more:

Experts believe there are many potential factors at play.

Data: Michigan seeing highest COVID case numbers in US

Children age 10-19

One major factor is clearly the impact of cases rising in school age children. The highest case rate is now in children ages 10-19. That age group makes up 12.7% of Michigan’s population, but accounts for 17.3% of the state’s new COVID cases in the last 28 days.

Unlike last fall, this age group is back in school for face-to-face learning and back to participating in extracurricular activities as well.

Cases are also rising in younger children, with 10.9% of Michigan’s COVID cases occurring in ages 0 to 9. Experts hope that as more children age 5 to 11 are vaccinated, these numbers will decrease.

Read: What to know about vaccines for kids aged 5-11

More contagious variant

We are also dealing with a different version of the virus than last fall.

The delta variant is currently the dominant variant in the United States. According to the CDC, the delta variant is more than twice as contagious as previous variants and thus spreads much more easily from person to person.

Most precautions dropped

You’ve probably noticed the majority people are no longer wearing masks in public.

Michigan dropped the most of its public health orders on large gatherings and mask use on June 22.

However, the CDC still recommends that vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission, which currently applies to all of Michigan.

Click here to view the CDC’s COVID data tracker.

Read: COVID cases are spiking in Michigan: Why haven’t state officials taken new action?

Breakthrough cases

While the majority of those hospitalized and dying from COVID continue to be unvaccinated, breakthrough cases are increasing.

In October, 27% of new cases in Michigan were breakthrough cases. That still means 73% were in the unvaccinated, but clearly fully vaccinated people are becoming infected.

There is growing evidence that protection from the vaccines decreases over time. Approximately 60% of adults are now eligible to receive a booster dose. The FDA and CDC are expected to expand that eligibility to all adults in the coming days.

The unvaccinated

One viewer recently asked, “Aren’t we out of unvaccinated people yet? How is it possible that there are still so many people getting infected?”

While many no doubt share that thought, the reality is that only 54.7% of Michigan residents age 5 and up are fully vaccinated. With a population of 9,420,414 that still leaves 4,264,635 unvaccinated people, plus children under age 5 who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.

Some of those 4 million have been recently infected and have natural immunity, but there are obviously still plenty of people at risk.

None of these factors explain why Michigan in particular is doing so poorly compared to some other parts of the country right now. There is a cyclical nature to this virus that we don’t truly understand yet.

We’ve seen the waves sweep across the country, ebbing and flowing at various times in various places. One thing is for certain, with the holidays approaching there is growing concern that cases in Michigan could continue to stay high for several weeks to come.

View: Michigan COVID hospitalizations trend

Michigan health officials: Face masks recommended at all indoor gatherings amid COVID surge

Michigan health officials are recommending anyone above the age of 2 to wear a face mask while gathering indoors during the holiday season as the state battles the worst coronavirus spread in the nation.

Michigan health officials are recommending anyone above the age of 2 to wear a face mask while gathering indoors during the holiday season as the state battles the worst coronavirus spread in the nation. For more information:

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that they will issue a face mask advisory for the holiday season as COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers continue to rise across the state.

“The increases in case counts, percent positivity and hospitalizations have us very concerned,” said MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel. “We are issuing the face mask advisory and are looking to Michiganders to do their part to help protect their friends, their families and their communities by wearing a mask in indoor settings and getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and flu as soon as possible if they have not already done so.”

Health officials are urging all people over the age of 2 years old to wear a face mask while gathering indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Businesses are also being encouraged to require face masks of all patrons and employees to help prevent the spread of COVID.

The health department’s latest mask advisory will “remain in effect until further notice,” officials wrote Friday.

MDHHS is also encouraging people to comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new COVID guidance for the 2021-2022 holiday season. The CDC is encouraging people to get vaccinated for COVID, wear masks at gatherings, gather outdoors when possible, social distance and avoid crowded spaces.

“COVID-19 cases are high as we head into the holidays, and we must take every measure we can to keep our families and loved ones safe – which starts with getting vaccinated,” said Michigan’s chief medical executive, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian. “Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available to children ages 5 and up, and boosters are available for eligible Michiganders. The holidays can be a time to spread great cheer and we recommend taking measures including wearing a mask indoors to not spread COVID-19 to loved ones.”

The announcement comes as the state of Michigan records the worst COVID-19 case numbers in the nation. Due to people moving indoors amid colder weather, relaxed COVID restrictions and a modest vaccination rate, Michigan has been experiencing yet another surge of virus spread over the last several months -- and it has continued to worsen in recent weeks.

As of Thursday, the state was moved into a “severe” risk category by Covid Act Now due to another rise in its daily new cases. As of Nov. 18, the group says Michigan is reporting 84 new COVID cases every day per every 100,000 residents.

On Wednesday, Michigan reported 14,561 new cases of COVID-19 and 242 virus-related deaths, which is a daily average of 7,280.5 cases over a two-day period. Wednesday’s update brings the total number of confirmed COVID cases in Michigan to 1,224,273, including 23,104 deaths. These numbers are up from 1,209,712 cases and 22,862 deaths, as of Monday.

Michigan school districts scramble to make changes as state leads country in new cases of COVID

School districts are scrambling to make changes as Michigan leads the country in new cases of COVID-19.

School districts are scrambling to make changes as Michigan leads the country in new cases of COVID-19.

In Detroit, Renaissance High School has made the decision to go virtual until Nov. 29. Moreover, the Detroit Public Schools Community District as a whole will go remote on Fridays in December to make way for deep cleaning in schools. Superintendent Nikolai Viti said the district is considering “greater vaccine requirements” for staff and students.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools district is going to be closed all next week because of COVID cases and staffing concerns.

More: Tracking COVID outbreaks in Michigan schools, colleges

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About the Authors:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.