Michigan’s risk for a coronavirus outbreak has recently decreased -- but has not altogether vanished -- nearly one month into the new year, according to data from Covid Act Now.
The state of Michigan is now labeled as “high” risk for a coronavirus outbreak by Covid Act Now -- a group of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts and public policy leaders that monitors and identifies each state’s risk level for a COVID-19 outbreak.
At the beginning of 2021, Michigan -- like much of the country -- was considered to be experiencing an “active or imminent outbreak,” which is a “critical” risk level. As of Thursday, Jan. 21, the state’s risk level has decreased due to fewer new COVID-19 cases reported each day, as the remainder of the country continues to struggle with virus spread.
Michigan is one of only five states labeled as high risk for an outbreak, which is the orange color on Covid Act Now’s national map. Three states -- California, Arizona and South Carolina -- are colored maroon, meaning they are experiencing a “severe” coronavirus outbreak. All remaining states, except Hawaii, are colored crimson on the map, which is considered the critical risk level. Hawaii is labeled as experiencing “slow disease growth.”
There are currently no states labeled at low risk for a coronavirus outbreak by the group.
Coronavirus conditions throughout the U.S. have not changed much since our last report on Jan. 1, but have improved slightly since worsening in November. The nation began experiencing a spike in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths beginning in November of 2020, which Covid Act Now identified as the nation’s “third wave” of coronavirus spread.
Much of the country is still reeling from November’s surge. Covid Act Now has categorized most states as being at a critical risk for a coronavirus outbreak due to “dangerous” numbers of daily new cases reported in each state. Daily case counts in Michigan have fallen just below the “dangerous” threshold, but the numbers are still trending poorly.
Daily new COVID cases in Michigan, US
One of the key factors contributing to Michigan’s high risk status is the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded each day per every 100,000 residents in the state.
As of Jan. 21, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan is seeing a “high” average of 24.3 new COVID cases every day per every 100,000 people -- which is just below the group’s “dangerous” threshold of 25 daily new cases per every 100,000 residents.
Michigan experienced high daily rates of new COVID-19 cases throughout November and December of 2020, peaking at 83 new coronavirus cases per every 100,00 people on Dec. 3 -- which Covid Act Now considers “extreme.” The case counts decreased at the very beginning of January, spiked again on Jan. 8 and appear to be declining once more as of Jan. 21.
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. A number between 75 and (oddly) 113 is considered extreme.
Covid Act Now’s data aligns with coronavirus case and death data reported by the state of Michigan.
Michigan has been experiencing a general decline in the rate of growth of new COVID-19 cases in December 2020 and January 2021 after experiencing its largest spike in COVID-19 cases on record throughout November. During that time, the state consistently broke record after record for single-day increases in new COVID-19 cases.
Still, daily virus case counts have spiked at times in January with numbers higher than those reported in the first few months of the pandemic. So far, the highest daily total of new COVID cases in Michigan was 9,799 on Nov. 20, 2020. The highest daily total of new virus cases in Michigan in January (so far) was 4,326 cases reported on Jan. 6.
Contact tracing in Michigan still low
As COVID cases steadily rose in Michigan throughout the 2020 fall season, the amount of contact tracing conducted correspondingly dropped off. Contact tracing in Michigan has been steadily decreasing since June of 2020, dropping sharply through December.
According to Covid Act Now, as of Jan. 21 the state is contact tracing about 8 percent of new COVID-19 cases -- which is considered “low”. Contact tracing is cited by experts as a key factor in containing COVID-19. Experts recommend that at least 90 percent of new COVID-19 cases are traced within 48 hours to contain the virus.
“With 2,425 new daily cases on average, Michigan needs an estimated 12,125 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 1,000 contact tracers, fulfilling only 8 percent 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.”
The state’s contact tracing has improved from its low of 3 percent at the end of November, but clearly requires significant work to reach the recommended 90 percent. When a state’s contact tracing falls below 10 percent it is considered “low;” it is considered “medium” when between 10 and 90 percent. Anything above 90 percent is “high,” according to the research group.
Michigan’s positive COVID test rate
COVID-19 testing has been steady in Michigan recently with more than 40,000 diagnostic tests reported per day on average, and with a 7-day positive rate average below 7 percent, according to data reported by the state.
Covid Act Now is reporting the same numbers, with a 7 percent positive test rate for the state as of Jan. 21. The research group says that Michigan’s virus testing “meets WHO minimums but needs to be further expanded to detect most new cases.”
According to the group, the “World Health Organization recommends a positive test rate of less than 10 percent. The countries most successful in containing COVID have rates of 3 percent or less.”
Virus hospitalizations decrease in Michigan, but still high
Coronavirus hospitalizations in Michigan have been declining since December of 2020, but the numbers still rival those reported in the first months of the pandemic. The state has also seen an uptick, and then plateau, of COVID-19 patients who are either on ventilators or in critical care units since November.
Covid Act Now claims that, based on these trends, Michigan’s healthcare systems “can likely handle a wave of new COVID” infections. The group determines this risk level by identifying how many intensive care unit (ICU) beds are available in the state, and how many may be needed based on the state’s level of coronavirus spread.
The group says, as of Jan. 21, about 74 percent of Michigan’s available ICU beds are currently in use by patients with and without COVID-19 diagnoses -- the same number reported at the beginning of the month.
“Michigan has reported having 2,624 staffed adult ICU beds. 1,496 are filled by non-COVID patients and 433 are filled by COVID patients,” the report reads. “Overall, 1,929 out of 2,624 (74 percent) are filled. This suggests some ability to absorb an increase in COVID cases.”
COVID-19 outbreak risk by US county
Covid Act Now also breaks data down at the county level, assigning a coronavirus outbreak risk level for nearly every county in the country. The research group has done this for months, but now features the option of viewing all U.S. counties on a map at one time (see the image below).
Though most U.S. counties are also labeled at a critical risk level, a number of counties throughout the country -- specifically out west, but also notably in Michigan -- are labeled at lesser risk levels.
According to the data, most Michigan counties, in both the upper and lower peninsulas, are either labeled at high or critical risk levels for a COVID outbreak. Some counties are considered a “medium” risk level, which is labeled yellow. Three counties in the U.P. -- Keweenaw, Alger and Luce counties -- are labeled at a severe risk level for a coronavirus outbreak.
New, more contagious COVID strain found in Michigan
Officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced on Jan. 16 that an adult female living in Washtenaw County has contracted a new COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.1.7. This new coronavirus strain is thought to be more contagious than the dominant strain already infecting the country.
This is the first known case of this coronavirus variant in Michigan.
The new virus variant was first identified in the U.K. at the end of 2020, and has now been identified in at least 20 states as of Thursday, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the United States president.
Officials say the Washtenaw County woman who contracted the virus variant recently traveled to the U.K. According to authorities, two additional positive COVID cases have been identified among close contacts with the Washtenaw County woman, but it is unclear if those two individuals are also infected with the virus variant.
While this is the first reported case of the variant in Michigan, officials say it is likely that more cases exist that have not yet been identified. Though the new strain is considered to be more contagious, Michigan officials say “there has been no indication that it affects the clinical outcomes or disease severity compared to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been circulating across the United States for months.”
“The discovery of this variant in Michigan is concerning, but not unexpected,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s top medical executive. “We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic as quickly as possible. We continue to urge Michiganders to follow a research-based approach by wearing their masks properly, socially distancing, avoiding crowds, washing their hands often, and making a plan to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is their turn.”
Michigan virus vaccinations, response plan
The state of Michigan has begun administering coronavirus vaccinations to eligible populations. As of Jan. 11, the state expanded its eligibility criteria to allow more frontline workers and residents over the age of 65 years to receive their shots.
Michigan COVID-19 vaccinations: How to find appointments, info on phases
Vaccine distribution has been moving slower than anticipated, though, in Michigan and throughout the country. In an effort to vaccinate more Michigan residents, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced a new plan in which the state will use $90 million in federal funding to ramp up vaccine distribution. The state’s new goal is to administer 50,000 vaccinations per day.
Under the new plan, the governor also intends to provide support to small businesses, extend unemployment benefits, create and offer new jobs and more to help jumpstart the state’s economy.
Earlier this month, Whitmer also recommended that K-12 schools return to in-person learning by March 1 after Michigan public schools were shut down during the fall due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
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