Update: Research shows Michigan still at ‘high risk’ for coronavirus outbreak, some trends worsening

High COVID-19 infection rate, low contact tracing contribute to Michigan's 'high risk' for virus spread

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the United States and colored according to their "Covid Risk Level." Much like the rest of the country, Michigan is experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and is now labeled at "high risk" for virus spread, according to data from Covid Act Now. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- July 19, 2020 (Covid Act Now)

Less than two weeks ago, Michigan was moved from “medium” to “high” risk for a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak by Covid Act Now.

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 have been rapidly worsening as COVID-19 cases increase throughout the U.S.

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the United States and colored according to their "Covid Risk Level." Much like the rest of the country, Michigan is experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and is now labeled at "high risk" for virus spread, according to data from Covid Act Now. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- July 19, 2020 (Covid Act Now)

On July 8 we reported that Michigan’s growing risk for a coronavirus outbreak was due to an increased rate of COVID-19 infection and a decrease in contact tracing.

On that date the state had an infection rate of 1.14 -- meaning each individual infected with COVID-19 was infecting 1.14 other people. As of July 19, the state has a reported infection rate of 1.21 -- which the research group identifies as “high.”

Covid Act Now considers an infection rate “critical” if it surpasses 1.4. Michigan had a low infection rate of 0.88 on July 2 and an even lower rate of 0.85 in mid-June.

The state’s contact tracing has reportedly been decreasing as Michigan experiences an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

On July 15 Michigan reported an increase of 891 COVID-19 cases in just one day, which was the highest daily increase since mid-May. The state is reporting a total of 73,180 cases and 6,117 COVID-19 deaths as of July 18.

As of Sunday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is contact tracing only about 31 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.

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.

Michigan was reportedly contact tracing about 45 percent of new cases within 48 hours as of July 8.

Covid Act Now’s research shows that Michigan is still doing fairly well with COVID-19 testing. The data indicates that Michigan has conducted widespread and aggressive COVID-19 testing and has a “low” positive test rate of 2.7 percent.

However that rate has been increasing in recent weeks. On July 8 the state reportedly had a positive COVID-19 test rate of 2.3 percent.

The rate will be considered “medium” instead of low if it surpasses 3 percent. Michigan’s lowest positive test rates were seen in early June and were around 1.1 percent, according to Covid Act Now.

Michigan hospitals can also “likely handle a new wave of COVID” as current ICU vacancies are abundant enough to “absorb” a new wave of infected patients. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Michigan have increased slightly since last week.

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 mostly 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)

A number of Michigan counties have moved backward into “high” or “critical” risk levels for a COVID-19 outbreak since our last reporting on July 8.

Michigan counties like Bay, Oakland, Saginaw, Washtenaw and Wayne have moved into a “high” risk level for the spread of COVID-19 since July 8. Other Michigan counties like Barry, Kalamazoo, Livingston, Ottawa and Otsego have since moved into a “critical” risk level for a coronavirus outbreak.

The counties’ increasing risk levels are primarily due to a “high risk” of hospitals becoming overwhelmed -- or are already overwhelmed -- with COVID-19 patients as cases and infection rates increase in the counties.

  • More detailed COVID-19 county data has been broken down for all U.S. counties by Covid Act Now 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 considered “well below international standards.”

The data does not predict that Michigan hospitals will become overloaded within the next 30 days if the current reopening plans are maintained. Covid Act Now still suggests that the state reopens in a “slow and phased fashion,” which Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has promoted throughout the pandemic.

Regions across Michigan have been slowly reopening in the last month under Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan, but the governor says the state will regress into “phase 3″ of the plan if COVID-19 cases continue to increase at a rapid rate. To return to phase 3 would mean closing a number of Michigan businesses and workplaces. K-12 schools are only allowed to offer a virtual learning option for students if their region is in phase 3.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid the recent case spike, Gov. Whitmer signed an executive order requiring face masks to be worn in all indoor, and some outdoor, public spaces across the state. Businesses are also required to deny entry or service to individuals who do not comply with the new requirement.

A willful violation of the order is a misdemeanor subject to a $500 criminal penalty, but no term of confinement may be imposed on individuals who violate the mask requirement.

As of Sunday, only New Jersey and Vermont are considered “on track to contain COVID,” according to the research group. Michigan is one of 30 states labeled at a high risk for a COVID-19 outbreak -- an increase from 24 states in that category on July 8.

There are nine states labeled at a medium risk for an outbreak and nine states labeled as experiencing an “active or imminent outbreak” -- an increase from six states as of July 8. Among these “critical” states are Florida, Texas and California who reported on July 14 an increase of 76,000, 64,000 and 62,000 COVID-19 cases, respectively, over a seven-day period.

More here: COVID-19 in the US: Tracking states with the most cases, deaths on July 14

You can find Covid Act Now’s data and methodology on their website here.

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.