A research group has once again labeled Michigan at "high risk” for a coronavirus outbreak as COVID-19 cases begin to rise rapidly across 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 have recently worsened in most parts of the U.S.
On Thursday, Michigan’s risk level for a coronavirus outbreak increased from “medium risk” to “high risk” for the first time since July 31. The state’s new risk level is largely due to an increased infection rate and rapid increase of daily new COVID-19 cases, according to the data.
Michigan was previously labeled as experiencing “controlled disease growth."
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 -- until Oct. 8, when it again shifted in an undesirable direction.
As of Sunday, data shows that Michigan currently has an infection rate of 1.12 -- meaning each person infected with COVID-19 is infecting 1.12 other people. The state’s infection rate had improved throughout August after increasing in July, but began to increase again throughout September.
Covid Act Now considers an infection rate “critical” if it surpasses 1.4. Michigan’s current infection rate of 1.12 is considered “high," and is contributing to the state’s worsened risk status for virus spread.
Daily new cases
Another factor contributing to Michigan’s high risk status is the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded each day per every 100,000 people.
On Sunday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is recording 11.7 new COVID-19 cases each day per every 100,000 residents -- a number that the research group considers “high.”
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.
On August 26, Michigan was reporting a medium rate of 7.1 new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day for every 100,000 residents -- an improvement from 7.3 on July 31. According to the data, Michigan’s rate of daily new cases peaked at 16.1 on April 7.
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. On Saturday, the state reported a total of 134,656 confirmed virus cases, recording an increase of 1,522 new cases since Friday -- the highest single-day increase since April 7.
As of Saturday, the state’s 7-day moving average of new cases reached 1,020. This is the first time Michigan has recorded a 7-day moving average above 1,000 since April 17.
Contact tracing in Michigan has been steadily decreasing since June and has reached its lowest point ever since the beginning of the pandemic.
Contact tracing is cited by experts as a key factor in containing COVID-19, but Michigan’s percentage of contact tracing has considerably decreased in recent months as virus cases continue to increase across the state.
As of Sunday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is contact tracing 18 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 1,167 new daily cases on average, Michigan needs an estimated 5,835 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 18% 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.”
Covid Act Now’s research shows that Michigan needs to expand COVID-19 testing to better contain the virus.
As of Sunday, Michigan has a “medium” positive test rate of 3.3 percent, according to the data. The group says this number indicates that the state is not conducting testing as aggressively and widespread as it should be to identify new cases and better contain the virus.
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 2.8 percent in July and has fluctuated between 2 and 3 percent throughout August and September.
Covid Act Now considers a test rate to be “medium” instead of low if it surpasses 3 percent. Between 10-19 percent is considered “high,” and between 20-100 percent is considered “critical.”
On a more positive note, Michigan has seen improvements in COVID-19 hospitalizations since May. Until recently, virus hospitalizations have steadily decreased since May 13.
According to the research group, of the available ICU beds in Michigan, only about 16 percent are currently in use by COVID-19 patients, suggesting that there is “likely enough capacity to absorb a wave of new COVID infections,” the report reads.
Covid Act Now says Michigan hospitals can “likely handle a new wave of COVID” -- which is good news, considering experts worry that the U.S. may be at the beginning of a second wave of virus infections.
COVID-19 by Michigan 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.
In our last report on August 26, most Michigan counties were labeled at medium risk for coronavirus spread by Covid Act Now, with very few counties labeled at high risk or experiencing an active outbreak.
As of Sunday, a number of counties have shifted to high risk or are experiencing an active or imminent coronavirus outbreak -- especially in the upper peninsula and throughout the southwestern half of the lower peninsula.
Luce, Houghton, Delta, Iron, Keweenaw, Menominee, Mackinac, Dickinson and Alger counties in the U.P. are currently labeled as experiencing an active or imminent outbreak. Only Oscoda and Calhoun counties in the lower peninsula share this same label.
About half of the counties in the lower peninsula are experiencing controlled disease growth (yellow), while the other half are considered at risk for an outbreak (orange). Wayne and Oakland counties -- two of the hardest-hit by the pandemic -- are notably experiencing controlled disease growth, largely due to lower infection rates.
Only Alpena County is considered “on track to contain COVID,” according to the research group.
- 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.
Pandemic worsens across US
Coronavirus spread is worsening throughout the U.S. with most states labeled at high risk for an outbreak, alongside Michigan.
In total, 31 states are labeled at high risk for a COVID-19 outbreak and 13 states are considered to be experiencing an active or imminent outbreak. Only six states are considered at medium risk for a coronavirus outbreak, according to the data.
No states are considered to be on track to contain the virus.
In our last report on August 26, most states were labeled at medium risk for a coronavirus outbreak, and more states were considered at low risk than they are now.
Six states -- including Ohio -- also had a record breaking single-day increase in COVID-19 cases on Saturday, leading to new fears that the country may be at the cusp of a second wave.
“We’re quite fearful for what we are heading into and what we’re starting to see in our hospitals,” said Dr. Megan Ranney with Brown University. “We are all deeply afraid that this is the beginning of that dreaded second wave.”
Ranney said doctors all over the country are starting to see more severe cases. The warning of a second wave comes a day after health officials reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in nearly two months.
“We did see those spikes in numbers that were largely young people going back to college,” Ranney said. “But what we’re seeing now is that it’s starting to spread within the community.”
An updated coronavirus projection model claims the U.S. could see 395,000 deaths by February, a different number from what President Trump is projecting.
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