Coronavirus spread in Michigan ‘slow, controlled,’ according to data

State maintains 'medium' risk level for COVID-19 outbreak, shows some improvements

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the United States and colored according to their "Covid Risk Level." Michigan is still labeled at "medium risk" for virus spread, according to data from Covid Act Now. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- Aug. 25, 2020 (Covid Act Now)

Nearly one month since our last report, Michigan has maintained its “medium” risk level for a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, according to data from 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 largely improved in recent weeks, though some states are still reporting significant increases in virus cases and deaths.

A screenshot of Covid Act Now's map of the United States and colored according to their "Covid Risk Level." Michigan is still labeled at "medium risk" for virus spread, according to data from Covid Act Now. Much of the country is at "high" or "medium" risk for a COVID-19 outbreak. Photo courtesy of Covid Act Now's website. -- Aug. 25, 2020 (Covid Act Now)

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

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 has since maintained its medium risk level and has even made some small improvements in key areas, according to Covid Act Now.

Infection rate

The data shows that Michigan currently has an infection rate of 0.99 percent -- meaning each person infected with COVID-19 is infecting 0.99 other people. The current infection rate is an improvement from 1.14 on July 8, 1.21 on July 19 and 1.06 on July 31.

The state previously had even lower infection rates of 0.85 back in mid-June and 0.88 on July 2.

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

Contact tracing

Though Michigan’s infection rate has decreased in recent weeks, unfortunately so has the amount of contact tracing being conducted throughout the state, according to the data.

Contact tracing is cited by experts as a key factor in containing COVID-19, but Michigan’s percentage of contact tracing has decreased in recent months as virus cases continue to increase across the state.

As of Aug. 25, the state of Michigan is reporting a total of 98,439 COVID-19 cases and 6,417 deaths.

Cases increased by 779 on Tuesday. New cases have plateaued in the last two weeks, but daily COVID-19 case counts have been increasing at a higher rate since the beginning of July -- specifically compared to numbers in June.

As of Wednesday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is contact tracing 30 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.

Though 30 percent is not ideal, it is a slight improvement from the state’s 29 percent of contact tracing reported on July 31.

“With 706 new daily cases on average, Michigan needs an estimated 3,530 contact tracers on staff to trace each new case to a known case within 48 hours of detection,” the report reads. “Per our best available data, Michigan has 1,050 contact tracers, fulfilling 30% of this staffing requirement. 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 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.

According to the data, Michigan’s contact tracing did fall to as low as 25 percent at the beginning of August.

COVID-19 testing

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 2.3 percent -- a slight increase from 2.2 percent on July 31, but still a decrease from 2.7 percent reported 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.

Virus hospitalizations

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 have increased slightly over the last month but remain 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.

COVID-19 cases per population

Another key indicator used by Covid Act Now to identify a state’s risk for virus spread is the amount of confirmed new cases per every 100,000 residents.

On Wednesday the data shows that Michigan is averaging 7.1 new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day for every 100,000 residents -- an improvement from 7.3 on July 31. If this trajectory continues, the group estimates that about 12.9 percent of Michigan’s population would contract COVID-19 in the next year.

COVID-19 by county

Covid Act Now does also break data down at the county level, assigning a coronavirus risk level for every county in the state. A 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)

Previously, a significant number of Michigan counties were categorized as “at risk” for a COVID-19 outbreak or experiencing an “active or imminent outbreak” (which are labeled by the colors orange and red, respectively).

Now, most counties are experiencing “controlled disease growth,” which is largely due to low COVID-19 infection rates, low positive test rates and low new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Berrien, Huron, Iosco, Lenawee, Livingston, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties have all been moved to a lower risk level after being labeled high risk or experiencing an active or imminent outbreak.

Some counties are considered “on track to contain COVID,” including Alpena, Lake and Sanilac counties.

Menominee and Isabella counties are now the only two Michigan counties considered to be experiencing an active or imminent outbreak as of Wednesday.

  • 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.”

Coronavirus response

Most of Michigan is considered in phase four of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening plan, which allows some businesses and activities to resume with restrictions in place. In recent weeks, the governor has ordered that face coverings must be worn in public spaces and some indoor dining has been shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Whitmer has consistently reiterated that the state’s economy will reopen slowly and in accordance to data regarding the virus and its spread. On Tuesday during a press conference, Whitmer said that she’s “not going to be bullied” into reopening businesses that are still closed because of the pandemic.

“I’m not going to be bullied into making that decision,” Whitmer said. “I’m going to follow the science. I’m going to work with Dr. (Joneigh) Khaldun, but we are looking very closely at those businesses that have been closed for the duration to determine if those protocols are there and if the seven-day averages and the number of positive cases per million per day would support doing a little more on those fronts.”

Khaldun, the chief medical executive and chief deputy director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, updated the state’s region-by-region numbers during the press conference Tuesday. The Detroit Region is still seeing the highest case rates, with three other regions reporting more than 50 cases per million people per day.

More: Michigan’s top medical official updates how COVID-19 cases are trending in all 8 regions

Michigan is one of 18 states labeled at a medium risk for a COVID-19 outbreak by Covid Act Now. Only one state, Vermont, is considered on track to contain the virus. The majority of the country -- 29 states -- is labeled at high risk for a COVID-19 outbreak.

Only two states -- North Dakota and Mississippi -- are considered to be experiencing an active or imminent outbreak.

Read more: COVID-19 in the US: Tracking states with the most cases, deaths on Aug. 25

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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.