Michigan no longer ‘on track to contain COVID,’ data shows

Experts label Michigan 'medium risk' for coronavirus spread two weeks after being labeled 'low risk'

A map of the United States color-coded by each state's COVID-19 "risk level," according to data from Covid Act Now. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. (Covid Act Now)

The state of Michigan has now been labeled “medium risk” for coronavirus (COVID-19) spread and is no longer “on track to contain COVID,” according to data from Covid Act Now.

The group -- comprised of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts and public policy leaders -- has been working to identify each state’s risk level for the spread of COVID-19. On June 18, Michigan was labeled at “low risk” for COVID-19 spread as the state’s case and death numbers increased at a slow rate after an intense battle with the pandemic.

At that time Michigan was only one of three states -- including New York and New Jersey -- that was considered “low risk” for virus spread.

Now Michigan is seeing a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases as much of the nation experiences case and death spikes. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers also increased last week but have started to decline again. COVID-19 deaths in Michigan have not seen a recent uptick.

According to Covid Act Now Michigan currently has a low infection rate of 0.88, which means each Michigan resident infected with the virus is infecting 0.88 other people. The state’s infection rate was 0.85 in mid-June.

The data shows that Michigan is doing well with COVID-19 testing, suggesting the state is conducting widespread and aggressive testing to help contain the virus. The state is also reportedly using only 14 percent of its ICU capacity for COVID-19 patients, which suggests that Michigan hospitals could likely “absorb a wave of new COVID-19 infections,” if necessary. However the group does not predict that Michigan hospitals will become overloaded within the next 30 days.

The primary reason for Michigan’s new “medium risk” label is attributed to it’s “insufficient” contact tracing amid increasing COVID-19 cases, according to Covid Act Now.

The group previously said the state had a sufficient amount of contact tracers, but now as COVID-19 cases increase throughout the state the group says only about 65 percent of new cases will be traced within 48 hours of infection -- which is considered insufficient for containing the spread of the virus. Experts recommend that at least 90 percent of new COVID-19 cases are traced within 48 hours to contain the virus.

Covid Act Now does break data down by the county level, but does not have sufficient information to establish risk levels for every county in Michigan. Based on the data they do have, risk levels have been identified for a number of counties in the southern half of the lower peninsula.

A map of Michigan counties and their assigned COVID-19 risk levels from research led by Covid Act Now. Risk levels have not been assigned to all Michigan counties due to insufficient data. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. (Covid Act Now)

Counties such as Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston and Lenawee have been labeled at a “critical” risk level due to a “high risk” of hospitals becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

  • Covid Act Now recently helped create a COVID-19 risk level map broken down by counties in collaboration with the Harvard Global Health Institute and dozens more researchers and public health officials. Click here to take a look.

Covid Act Now previously said Michigan’s COVID-19 preparedness met or exceeded international standards across the group’s “key metrics” back in June. Now the state’s pandemic preparedness is just considered to “meet” international standards.

The researchers say that if the state maintains its current operations (as of July 2) in response to the pandemic, “Michigan may eventually achieve herd immunity, though this may take years.”

Michigan is among 20 other “medium risk” states experiencing “controlled disease growth.” Currently only New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut are considered “on track to contain COVID.” The remainder of the country is labeled “at risk” for virus spread, except for five states -- Arizona, Missouri, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina -- who are reportedly experiencing an “active or imminent outbreak.”

A map of the United States color-coded by each state's COVID-19 "risk level," according to data from Covid Act Now. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. (Covid Act Now)

A number of states have reported significant increases in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks as economies begin to reopen amid the pandemic. For example Florida reported an increase of 46,000 COVID-19 cases and Arizona reported an increase of nearly 20,000 new cases in just the last week.

Health officials believe that young people might be partially responsible for an increase in COVID-19 cases in Michigan as bars, restaurants and nightclubs recently reopened to the public. Some recent outbreaks have been tied to bars -- especially in East Lansing where 138 COVID-19 cases have been linked to an outbreak at Harpers Restaurant and Brew Pub as of Wednesday.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the closure of indoor bars on Wednesday to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

READ: Step backward: Some Michigan bars ordered closed after coronavirus outbreaks

About the Author:

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