7 takeaways from Whitmer’s COVID update: Metrics starting to turn, variants spreading

Whitmer discusses COVID-19 in Michigan 1 year after first cases

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a March 10, 2021, COVID-19 briefing. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer provided an update on COVID-19 one year after the state confirmed its first cases of the virus.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, spoke at length about the state’s COVID-19 metrics and the presence of two variants during the briefing.

Here are our takeaways from the briefing.

1 year into pandemic

Whitmer spoke about what Michigan has gone through over the past year, since the first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the state on March 10, 2020.

“The year since has been equal parts historic and heartbreaking, with our fair share of horrors and heroism,” Whitmer said.

She mentioned all the events, including the presidential election, that happened throughout the pandemic, and recounted how the virus spread from the world to the United States, and eventually to Michigan.

“I’ll never forget the night when I got the call that Michigan had identified our first cases of COVID-19,” Whitmer said.

The governor shared a few stories about Michiganders who helped the state get through the pandemic.

COVID metrics

Khaldun provided an update on the state’s top COVID-19 metrics after they began to plateau last week.

As of Wednesday, Michigan’s case rate is at 114 cases per million people -- a number that has increased over the past three weeks.

The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is up to 4.1%, which is up from 3.4% three and a half weeks ago, according to Khaldun.

“We are also starting to see a slight increase in our hospitalizations,” Khaldun said. “A little over 4% of inpatient beds are being used to take care of patients who have COVID-19.”

After a massive spike in cases in November, Michigan had been seeing a steady decline over the first two months of 2021, but that trend appears to be changing course.

B1351 variant

Michigan confirmed its first case of the B.1.351 COVID-19 variant earlier this week.

“Two days ago, we identified the first known case of a person who is infected with the B.1.351 variant,” Khaldun said.

The variant, which was first detected in South Africa has been found in a child in Jackson County, according to health officials.

The health department did not say how the boy was infected but a case investigation is underway to determine close contacts and if there are additional cases associated.

“If these variants become more prevalent, we risk having a rapid rise in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” Khaldun said.

Officials said B.1.351 is believed to be more contagious but there is no indication that it “affects the clinical outcomes or disease severity compared to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been circulating across the United States for months.”

B117 variant

As of last week, the state had identified 422 cases of the B117 variant. Now, that number is up over 500, according to Khaldun.

“We know the new, more easily transmitted B117 variant is present, and if that variant becomes more prevalent across the state, we could see a more rapid increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” Khaldun said last week.

There have been cases of the variant identified around the state in which officials don’t know how it was transmitted, she said. That means there is likely “undetected spread occurring in the community.”

‘Reversal of progress’

Between rising case, positivity and hospitalization rates, as well as the spread of new variants across the state, Khaldun expressed concerns about the direction of Michigan’s fight against COVID-19.

“We are starting to see a slight reversal in some of the progress we have made over the past couple of months,” Khaldun said. “But that just means we have to double down on what we know works.”

She reiterated the importance of wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and getting vaccines when they become available.

Vaccinations

In total, more than 2.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Michigan, Khaldun said.

About 21% of people over the age of 16 have had at least one dose of the vaccine, she said.

“We are getting more and more vaccines into the state every week,” Khaldun said. “Because of that, we’ve been able to expand eligibility.”

Michigan recently made the vaccine available to people 50 and older with underlying health conditions, and it will soon be available to all Michiganders age 50 and up.

Porch lights

Whitmer asked Michiganders to turn on their porch lights from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday in memory of the people who have died during the pandemic.

“In Michigan, we show up for one another,” Whitmer said.

She talked about how Michigan helped other states over the past year, from Midwest neighbors needing personal protective equipment to California’s wildfires.

“When neighbors, friends or family need a hand, Michiganders always have one to give,” Whitmer said. “It’s who we are. We get through tough times together.”


About the Author: