The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Michigan -- and other states struggling with increased COVID-19 spread -- to impose restrictions to curb infections.
During a coronavirus-related news conference, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recommended that restrictions should be put in place in Michigan to help slow virus spread -- specifically within youth sports.
While the race between vaccinations and cases continues throughout the state, unfortunately the cases are winning: 63 of 83 Michigan counties saw double digit increases in positivity rates within the last week. The data shows that COVID is spreading quickly among young people in the state.
While those aged 20-39 years old have the highest case rates -- and are driving virus hospitalizations in Michigan -- K-12 schools top the list of coronavirus outbreak locations in the state. High schools are particularly problematic.
Since January, basketball, hockey and wrestling have had the highest number of COVID cases and clusters, with 376 cases linked to basketball and 256 to hockey.
In an effort to curb virus spread, Dr. Walensky is urging the state to impose restrictions on indoor, contact youth sports.
“I encourage communities to make adjustments to meet their unique needs and circumstances,” Walensky said. “For example, in areas of substantial or high community transmission, CDC guidance specifically suggests refraining from youth sports that are not outside and cannot be conducted at least six feet apart.”
The CDC director’s recommendation comes as Michigan leads the nation in virus spread, reporting the highest COVID case rate of any state over the last week. Coronavirus infections have been rapidly increasing across the state since mid-February, nearing numbers last seen during the November surge and the onset of the pandemic.
Last week, the CDC said that Michigan is leading the nation in new COVID-19 cases per population. As of April 2, the state of Michigan was leading the U.S. in daily new COVID cases, virus infection rates and positive COVID test rates, according to data from Covid Act Now. That still remains true as of April 8, except for the infection rates: Puerto Rico has surpassed Michigan’s COVID infection rate, now leading the nation with a rate of 1.22, the data shows. Michigan’s infection rate is 1.21 as of Thursday -- meaning that every individual who contracts COVID is infecting, on average, 1.21 other people.
Health officials are particularly concerned with the up-tick in hospitalizations in Michigan amid the virus surge, specifically among a smaller age group.
According to state data, hospitalization rates are doubling every 12 to 14 days. At this rate, Michigan is quickly approaching the peaks seen in December and last spring. If the current trends continue, Michigan could exceed its previous highest levels of hospitalizations by next Monday.
Those numbers are alarming for younger age groups: According to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, hospitalizations increased by 633 percent for adults ages 30-39 and by 800 percent for adults ages 40-49 between March 1 and March 23.
The shift in hospitalized age groups in Michigan is likely related to the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, as older, more vulnerable populations were initially prioritized. Still, health experts are concerned with the increasing number of middle-aged Michigan adults being hospitalized with severe COVID-19.
Elizabeth Hertel, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said that hospitals can handle the rise in virus cases and hospitalizations.
“We know that our hospitals are well-equipped to handle these surges,” Hertel said during a news conference Wednesday. “We’ve seen them do it a number of times now, unfortunately.”
Despite rising COVID infections and hospitalizations, and recommendations from the CDC, Michigan officials have maintained that their plan is to prioritize vaccines to combat the virus surge, not impose new restrictions.
“Our focus right now continues on making sure we’re getting as many people vaccinated as possible,” Hertel said. “We still do have a number of restrictions in place that limit gathering sizes.”
Hertel also noted that while high school indoor sports have been a source of infections, those sports will be wrapping up soon, and spring sports are outdoors where close contact is less likely. When lifting restrictions on Michigan youth sports in February, officials did not say whether or not they would be open to imposing new restrictions should conditions change, instead saying they would “watch the numbers.”
The state has imposed regular, mandatory COVID-19 testing for teen athletes to help slow virus spread -- though some parents are staunchly against it.
Vaccinations have been ramping up across the state, with eligibility criteria now extended to all residents aged 16 years old and up. Health officials are pushing for younger populations to get vaccinated as quickly as possible in response to the state’s virus surge.