Report: COVID surge shows signs of slowing in Michigan

Michigan epidemiologist reports virus cases, hospitalizations, deaths still high, but slowing

Residents look at the street through a window at the Icaria nursing home in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coronavirus trends in Michigan are beginning to show signs of improvement in early December following a recent influx of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, according to health experts.

Michigan, like much of the country, has been experiencing a surge in coronavirus spread that sometimes rivaled numbers only seen at the onset of the pandemic earlier this year. COVID-19 cases in Michigan have been on the rise since September, with virus hospitalizations and deaths steadily increasing since October.

In a report published Dec. 9 by Sarah Lyon-Callo, Director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan’s COVID cases and deaths appear to be increasing at slower rates and virus hospitalizations are either plateauing or decreasing throughout the state as of Dec. 5.

MDHHS: Cautious optimism as COVID-19 cases plateau in Michigan

Below are some takeaways from the report.

COVID-19 cases in Michigan

  • COVID-19 cases in Michigan have dropped for a second week in a row, but the rate of daily new cases remains more than five times the rate from early October.
  • Of the 1,290 active and reported outbreaks in Michigan, an estimated 445 are associated with senior/assisted living facilities, 231 with K-12 schools, 152 with manufacturing/construction, 79 with healthcare, 75 with office settings and 54 with restaurants and bars. Of these top six exposure zones, restaurants and bars are the only settings where it is deemed especially difficult to identify a COVID outbreak.
  • Michigan residents between the ages of 30-49 years old continue to record the highest new virus cases per million residents. Specifically, daily new COVID cases have been the highest among those 30-39 years old on average in recent weeks.
    • However, in the last four weeks, COVID cases per million have decreased for all age groups in the state.
  • Contact tracing and investigation of COVID-19 cases remain “steady,” but the numbers are notably low due to the recent influx of new cases.

COVID-19 testing in Michigan

  • The percent positivity rate for COVID-19 testing has plateaued in Michigan at 14.4% for the past 3 weeks.
  • Daily diagnostic testing has dropped over the last week to an average of 51,000 tests per day.
  • COVID-19 testing turnaround times in Michigan averaged about 2.9 days between Nov. 18 and Dec. 2.

Michigan COVID hospitalizations

  • More than 18.7% of available inpatient beds were filled with COVID patients in Michigan over the last week.
  • Though virus hospitalizations are beginning to plateau or decrease throughout Michigan over the last week, COVID-19 hospitalizations are still nearing numbers seen in the spring at the onset of the pandemic.
  • Michigan has the 6th highest hospitalization rate as a percent of total beds, and 7th highest number of COVID patients in the ICU.
  • ICU occupancy is currently greater than 80% in five of eight Michigan regions.

COVID-19 deaths in Michigan

  • Michigan’s COVID death rate is currently 8.3 deaths per million residents per day.
  • The rate of increase in COVID-19 deaths in Michigan has started to slow, but the current number of deaths is still five times the amount of deaths in early October.
  • Virus deaths are occurring at higher rates among white residents, but health officials say there is some concern over spikes in deaths among Native American and Hispanic populations.
  • Michigan residents over the age of 80 years continue to see the highest virus deaths per million residents. Recent deaths are largely attributed to individuals older than 60 years of age.

See more: How to track Michigan COVID-19 data

Although the data may be trending in a promising direction, the numbers of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths throughout the state of Michigan are still significantly high. Experts worry that these numbers will continue to grow as Americans head indoors this season due to winter weather and holiday gatherings.

Virus deaths occurring in Michigan now are a lagging indicator of the surge in coronavirus cases recorded in the state throughout November. Michigan officials do not believe they have yet seen the full impact that Thanksgiving gatherings and travel may have on the state’s numbers.

Read: Michigan extends COVID-19 restrictions for 12 days to gauge Thanksgiving impact

Wednesday’s report also touched on the controversial topic of bars and restaurants and their role in virus spread in Michigan.

Bars and restaurants have been among the businesses hit hardest by the virus and related shutdowns and restrictions. In Michigan, restaurants have been prohibited from offering indoor dining services since mid-November in response to rising coronavirus cases and spread, which they had also done at the beginning of the pandemic.

The ban on indoor dining was slated to expire on Dec. 8, but Michigan officials announced an extension of the MDHHS’ restrictions in an effort to further prevent virus spread. Indoor dining is now banned in Michigan through Dec. 20.

More: Michigan COVID restrictions extended through Dec. 20: What to know

Many Michigan restaurant owners have been critical of the state’s ban on indoor dining, especially as other businesses -- like retail -- are allowed to continue operations with safety measures in place. Critics argued that data does not support the theory that virus outbreaks are connected with indoor dining or bars and restaurants in general.

However, health experts are saying that the data does support that COVID outbreaks are linked to bars and restaurants, where people congregate and take off their masks. Lyon-Callo’s report Wednesday includes findings from five different studies that claim to show a link between coronavirus spread and indoor dining.

The studies, some also cited by Michigan officials Monday, include research from various points in the pandemic from South Korea, Stanford University, JP Morgan and Johns Hopkins University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Journal Nature.

“Businesses that are places where people come together, inside, from different households and remove their masks, like places where you eat or drink, are uniquely at risk in this moment,” said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday. “It’s not the restaurant’s fault. It’s not the bar’s fault. It’s not our fault. It’s just the nature of COVID-19.”

Read: ‘Science is settled’: Michigan health officials defend keeping dine-in service closed in restaurants

According to Lyon-Callo’s report, of the 1,290 current reported outbreaks in Michigan, an estimated 54 are associated with restaurants and bars. Restaurant and bar settings have been deemed locations that are “harder to identify” if an outbreak has taken place there.

“Many factors, including the lack of ability to conduct effective contact tracing in certain settings, may result in significant underreporting of outbreaks,” the report reads. “This (data) does not provide a complete picture of outbreaks in Michigan and the absence of identified outbreaks in a particular setting in no way provides evidence that, in fact, that setting is not having outbreaks.”

Wednesday’s report also identified that criminal offenses have decreased 16% this year amid the pandemic compared to 2019, but aggravated assaults, murders and domestic violence offenses have all increased since last year.

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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.