Michigan now at risk for ‘active or imminent' COVID outbreak, data shows

Michigan sees largest COVID-19 cases increase reported since start of pandemic

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the United States and colored according to their "Covid Risk Level." Michigan is now labeled as experiencing an "active or imminent" COVID outbreak, according to data from Covid Act Now. Most of the country is at "high" risk for a COVID-19 outbreak (orange), or is currently experiencing or facing an imminent outbreak like Michigan (red). Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- Oct. 30, 2020. (Covid Act Now)

A research group is now labelling Michigan at “critical” risk for a coronavirus outbreak as COVID-19 cases once again rise rapidly in the state.

The group of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts and public policy leaders at Covid Act Now are identifying each state’s risk level for the spread of COVID-19 -- which are worsening in most parts of the U.S.

On Thursday, Michigan’s risk level for a coronavirus outbreak increased from “high” risk to critical risk -- meaning the state is experiencing an “active or imminent outbreak," according to the data. The state’s new risk level appears to be largely due to an increased infection rate and rapid increase of daily new COVID-19 cases.

“Michigan is either actively experiencing an outbreak or is at extreme risk. COVID cases are exponentially growing and/or Michigan’s COVID preparedness is significantly below international standards,” the researchers report.

Coid Act Now is using data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to calculate the “Positive Test Rate” for most states. Michigan’s positive test rate is 6.4%, according to the researchers, with 25.7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents. The state of Michigan reported more than 50,000 COVID test results on Oct. 28 with an 8.6% positive rate.

View: Tracking Michigan COVID-19 testing data

Read more: Michigan COVID testing is up. But so is the positivity rate

Like most other states, Michigan’s risk for coronavirus spread has constantly shifted in recent months due to fluctuating rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, contact tracing and more.

Earlier this month, the state’s risk level increased from medium to high. On July 31, we reported that Michigan’s status had changed from being “at risk of an outbreak” to experiencing “slow disease growth.” The state initially moved to a higher risk level on July 8 as COVID-19 case numbers increased and contact tracing decreased across Michigan.

The state maintained its medium risk level until Oct. 8, when it again shifted in an undesirable direction.

Infection rate

As of Friday, data shows that Michigan currently has an infection rate of 1.28 -- meaning each person infected with COVID-19 is infecting 1.28 other people.

The state’s infection rate had improved throughout August after increasing in July, but began to increase again throughout September. In early October, the infection rate was 1.12 in Michigan.

Michigan had an infection rate of 0.99 on August 26, 1.06 on July 31, 1.21 on July 19 and 1.14 on July 8. On Oct. 11 it was 1.12.

Covid Act Now considers an infection rate “critical” if it surpasses 1.4. Michigan’s current infection rate of 1.28 is considered “high,” and is contributing to the state’s worsened risk status for virus spread.

Daily new cases -- ‘critical’ number

Another factor contributing to Michigan’s critical risk status is the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded each day per every 100,000 people.

On Friday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is recording 25.7 new COVID-19 cases each day per every 100,000 residents -- a number that the research group considers “critical.”

Covid Act Now: Over the last week, Michigan has averaged 2,566 new confirmed cases per day (25.7 for every 100,000 residents). Over the next year, this translates to around 940,000 cases and an estimated 4,700,000 infections (46.9% of the population). -- Oct. 30, 2020 (Covid Act Now)

Any number higher than 1 is considered “medium” and anything above 10 is considered “high.” A state has reached “critical” standing if it reports more than 25 daily new cases per every 100,000 residents, according to the group.

The state was reporting a “high” rate of 11.7 new confirmed COVID cases per day for every 100,000 residents on October 11. Over the summer, Michigan reported a “medium” rate of 7.1 daily new cases on August 26 and 7.3 on July 31.

According to the data, Michigan’s rate of daily new cases peaked at 16.1 on April 7. The new October data is trending to double that peak.

The group’s data aligns with coronavirus case and death data reported by the state of Michigan.

Michigan is currently experiencing its largest spike in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Thursday’s update represents 3,675 new cases and 41 additional deaths, including 22 from a Vital Records review. On Wednesday, the state reported 167,545 total cases and 7,257 deaths.

The update represents the highest single-day case total for Michigan since the start of the pandemic. Officials said statewide network connectivity issues delayed the data pull past the 10 a.m. cutoff, which resulted in some cases that would have normally been counted in Friday’s totals being included Thursday.

New COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in Michigan. Testing has increased in recent weeks, with more than 40,000 diagnostic tests reported per day, but the positive rate has increased to around 5%. Hospitalizations have increased steadily for the last four weeks, including upticks in critical care and ventilator use.

Michigan’s 7-day moving average for daily cases was 2,356 on Wednesday, the highest it has ever been. The state’s fatality rate is 4.3%. The state also reports “active cases,” which were listed at 45,200 as of Wednesday, its highest mark on record. More than 114,000 have recovered in Michigan.

Contact tracing -- lowest ever in Michigan

As COVID cases rise in Michigan, the amount of contact tracing conducted has significantly dropped off. Contact tracing in Michigan has been steadily decreasing since June, and has dropped sharply between mid-September and the end of October.

Contact tracing is cited by experts as a key factor in containing COVID-19.

As of Friday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is contact tracing 7 percent of new COVID-19 cases within 48 hours of infection -- which health officials say is insufficient to contain the virus. Experts recommend that at least 90 percent of new COVID-19 cases are traced within 48 hours to contain the virus.

“With 2,832 new daily cases on average, Michigan needs an estimated 14,160 contact tracers on staff to trace each new case to a known case within 48 hours of detection. Per our best available data, Michigan has 1,050 contact tracers, fulfilling only 7% of this staffing requirement,” the report reads. “With insufficient contact tracing staff, Michigan is unlikely to be able to successfully identify and isolate sources of disease spread fast enough to prevent new outbreaks.”

When a state’s contact tracing falls below 20 percent it is considered “low,” and when it falls below 7 percent it is considered “critical,” according to the research. Between 10 and 90 percent is considered “medium.”

The state’s current percentage of contact tracing is the lowest it has ever been since the beginning of the pandemic.

Entire US at high risk for, or experiencing, COVID outbreak

Michigan is not the only state experiencing an active or imminent COVID-19 outbreak -- in fact, most of the country is. All states, excluding Hawaii, are labeled at either high risk (orange) or critical risk (red) for a COVID-19 outbreak.

According to Covid Act Now, as of Friday, 25 states are currently experiencing an active or imminent virus outbreak and 24 states are “at risk of an outbreak.” Hawaii is the only state currently experiencing “controlled disease growth." No states are said to be “on track to contain COVID" as of Friday, according to the research.

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the United States and colored according to their "Covid Risk Level." Michigan is now labeled as experiencing an "active or imminent" COVID outbreak, according to data from Covid Act Now. Most of the country is at "high" risk for a COVID-19 outbreak (orange), or is currently experiencing or facing an imminent outbreak like Michigan (red). Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- Oct. 30, 2020. (Covid Act Now)

In our last report earlier this month, only 13 states were labeled red and the majority of states were considered high risk.

Experts have warned that the country’s recent surge in COVID cases may be the beginning of a “second wave” of the virus. Europe is currently experiencing a second wave, reporting over 10 million COVID-19 cases in total.

In Michigan, health officials responded to the rapid rise of virus cases by issuing stronger restrictions for gatherings and restaurants on Thursday.

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.