39ºF

4 differences between first Michigan COVID spike and now

Coronavirus cases rising again in Michigan, US

Hand washing sign in Detroit.
Hand washing sign in Detroit. (WDIV)

Cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) are spiking again in Michigan -- and across the country and world.

Michigan’s 7-day moving average for new cases is at its highest point since early April, when cases first peaked in the state. Deaths and hospitalizations are also increasing. The positive test rate on Oct. 18 was 6.13% - the highest since mid-May.

Of course, this was expected. Every expert told us this would happen in the fall, especially as businesses reopened and schools started up again. It’s hard to compare what’s happening in Michigan with other states, let alone other countries, given the drastically different approaches, behaviors, climate and health. So let’s take a look at Michigan.

The current spike of COVID cases in Michigan is not the same as April. There are huge differences.

Testing

The testing capacity in Michigan is like night and day compared to April.

When the 7-day average peaked on April 7, Michigan was reported about 4,000-5,000 diagnostic tests per day, and the positive test rate was near 35%. Early on, state health officials asked that only those with symptoms or underlying health issues get tested.

In October, the state is averaging more than 35,000 tests per day, including its highest one-day total around 50,000 on Oct. 15. The positive test rate in the last week or so has been near 4%. Now, many are being tested for work or due to potential exposure -- or just because they want to get tested.

Michigan COVID testing data as of Oct. 15, 2020.
Michigan COVID testing data as of Oct. 15, 2020. (MDHHS)

Michigan is 12th in testing in the U.S., and has reported 4.5 million total tests, including serologic (anti-body) tests.

Hospital capacity

When the coronavirus pandemic first started, hospitals were rushing to not only learn more about the virus, to better treat for it, but also to ramp up its facilities to be able to handle a surge of patients.

Hospitals have been preparing for a possible second wave for months and are much better equipped to handle an outbreak than they were in April.

States have had time to build up supply of ventilators, masks and other hospital equipment. Michigan has also kept in place an emergency hospital in Novi.

As of Oct. 15, more than 1,000 were hospitalized in Michigan, which is about double from Sept. 21. But on April 12, nearly 4,000 were hospitalized. This is due to the change in case demographic (see below).

Restrictions

We’re seeing cases rise dramatically right now and it’s hard to believe it’s going to just slow down given the difference in restrictions.

In April, when cases peaked, Michigan had a stay-at-home order in place, restaurants were closed for dine-in service and pretty much every other businesses was ordered to work remotely. The school year was even paused. Cases eventually dropped to manageable levels. The state’s stay-at-home order was lifted on June 1. The 7-day average on June 7 was 150.

Now, essentially all businesses in Michigan have reopened, although with some restrictions in place. There is no stay-at-home order, no mandates to close and school is back in session. MDHHS has some restrictions in place, limiting capacity and gatherings, but it’s nowhere near as strict as it was in April.

There is another big difference: Masks. At first, masks were not required but only suggested by health officials. Now, they are mandated in any public place.

Demographics

The demographics in new cases has shifted to younger people in recent months, as schools, specifically college campuses, started up again.

The 20-29 age group, generally at a lower risk for severe illness or death, has grown the most since April.

Cases by age in Michigan.
Cases by age in Michigan. (MDHHS)

According to MDHHS, 26 have died in the 20-29 age group from COVID-19, while more than 3,000 have died over the age of 80. The 70-79 age group accounts for about 1,800 deaths.

Many of the new cases are also asymptomatic, which is good for the person, but bad if they don’t know they have the virus and are unknowingly spreading it.

MDHHS: “As Michigan works to safely reopen, it is important to remember that does not mean that the virus is gone, or the risk of infection is less. Scientists and doctors agree that masks and face coverings can help to reduce the spread by about 70 percent. And further, not feeling ill is not a sign that you are not infected – the reality is that about 40 percent of people who have COVID-19 may be asymptomatic and capable of spreading the virus to others. Although many people getting infected with COVID-19 this fall are not needing to be hospitalized, it still important that we wear masks and socially distance to prevent people who will have severe disease from getting infected.”


About the Author: