Michigan moved from ‘high’ to ‘medium’ risk for coronavirus outbreak, data shows

Researchers say coronavirus (COVID-19) not contained in Michigan, but is spreading at slow rate

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the United States and colored according to their "Covid Risk Level." Michigan is now labeled at "medium risk" for virus spread, according to data from Covid Act Now. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- July 31, 2020 (Covid Act Now)

In just over a week, Michigan’s risk for a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has been moved from a “high” risk level to a “medium” risk level 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.

On July 28, Michigan’s status had changed to experiencing “slow disease growth” (yellow) according to the research group. On July 19 the state was considered “at risk” (orange) for a COVID-19 outbreak as case numbers continued to increase and contact tracing continued to decrease across the state.

Now, the state is not considered to be “containing” COVID-19, but the virus is technically spreading at a slow rate, according to the group.

As of Friday, July 31, Michigan has an infection rate of 1.06 -- meaning each individual infected with COVID-19 is infecting 1.06 other people.

The state’s infection rate has decreased since our last reporting, which showed an infection rate of 1.21 on July 19. Michigan’s COVID-19 infection rate was 1.14 on July 8, 0.88 on July 2 and 0.85 in mid-June.

Covid Act Now considers an infection rate “critical” if it surpasses 1.4.

The percentage of contact tracing in Michigan has been steadily decreasing over the last month as the state experiences an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

As of July 30, the state of Michigan is reporting 80,887 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 6,191 deaths. Cases increased by 996 on Wednesday, including 300 cases added from a testing backlog.

Throughout the month of July, daily COVID-19 case counts have increased at rates that have not been seen since May.

As of Friday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is contact tracing only about 29 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.

The state was reportedly contact tracing about 31 percent of new cases within 48 hours as of July 19. Michigan’s contact tracing was at about 45 percent on July 8, 65 percent on July 2 and 100 percent on June 18.

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.

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 2.2 percent -- which has decreased from 2.7 percent on July 19.

Michigan’s positive COVID-19 test rate had been gradually climbing after dropping dramatically during May and the beginning of June. The state saw its lowest positive test rate -- 0.9 percent -- on June 10. Since then the positive test rate climbed up to 2.7 percent until it began descending again on July 22, the data shows.

The positive test rate will be considered “medium” instead of low if it surpasses 3 percent. Between 10-19 percent is considered high, and between 20-100 percent is considered critical.

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 recently increased slightly, but remain considerably lower than in April.

The data does not predict that Michigan hospitals will become overloaded within the next 30 days, as long as the current reopening plans are maintained.

Since our last reporting, Covid Act Now has introduced a new “key indicator” that measures the number of new COVID-19 cases each day per every 100,000 residents.

On Friday the data shows that Michigan is averaging 7.3 new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day for every 100,000 residents. If this trajectory continues, the group says two to 20 percent of Michigan’s population would contract COVID-19 in the next year.

Covid Act Now does break data down by the county level as well, and -- for the first time since our reporting -- has enough data to assign a coronavirus risk level for every county in the state. Majority of Michigan counties are considered at a “medium” risk for a COVID-19 outbreak, according to the data.

A map of Michigan counties and their assigned COVID-19 risk levels from research led by Covid Act Now. Risk levels have now been assigned to all Michigan counties by the group. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. (Covid Act Now)

Covid Act Now only previously had enough data to assign risk levels to counties in the lower half of the southern peninsula of Michigan. Most of the counties added to the map are categorized as having a “low” or “medium” risk, typically due to low positive test rates and low new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Many Michigan counties in the southern half of the lower peninsula are considered at “high” risk or are experiencing an active or imminent outbreak and have been for weeks, including Berrien, Ionia, Iosco, Lenawee, St. Clair and St. Joseph counties. The high risk level for these counties is largely due to high COVID-19 infection rates and a high risk of hospitals becoming overwhelmed with patients.

A number of counties have actually moved to a lower risk level since mid-July, including Bay, Isabella, Midland, Otsego, Ottawa, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

  • Even 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 just “meets international standards.”

Amid increasing COVID-19 cases across the state, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer amended executive orders Wednesday to limit indoor gatherings to only 10 people and to close indoor bars that make 70 percent of their profits from alcohol. Under the same restrictions, indoor bars have been closed throughout most of Michigan since early July, but the amended orders now include establishments in northern regions of the state.

“As we see COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Michiganders cannot afford to drop our guard. We must take every step possible to save lives, protect the brave men and women on the front lines, and avoid overwhelming our healthcare system while we continue to combat COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “After seeing a resurgence in cases connected to social gatherings across the state, we must further limit gatherings for the health of our community and economy. By taking these strong actions, we will be better positioned to get our children back into classrooms and avoid a potentially devastating second wave.”

A recent outbreak at an East Lansing bar resulted in 187 infections and more than 50 cases have been linked to a house party in Saline. A sandbar party at Torch Lake over the Fourth of July weekend led to at least 43 confirmed cases.

See: Michigan COVID-19 risk map update: Where things stand

Gov. Whitmer also recently made face masks mandatory to be worn in all indoor public spaces and most outdoor public spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Whitmer has previously said that if COVID-19 cases continue to increase at a high rate, the state will move backward in its reopening plan -- affecting a number of reopened businesses and workplaces, and how K-12 schools will resume in the fall.

As of Friday, only Vermont is considered “on track to contain COVID,” according to the research group. Michigan is one of nine states experiencing a slow disease growth.

There are currently 27 states “at risk” for a COVID-19 outbreak, and 13 states experiencing an “active or imminent outbreak” -- an increase from nine on July 19 and from six on July 8. Among these “critical” states are Florida, Texas and Arizona who reported on July 28 an increase of 72,000, 56,000 and 18,000 additional 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 28

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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.