Over the last several weeks, COVID spread has once again picked up throughout the U.S., driven by the delta variant, which is a more transmissible strain of the virus. Coronavirus vaccines have proved to be effective against the variant, but some “breakthrough” cases have been reported recently among vaccinated individuals, sparking some concern.
Pfizer, a drug company behind one of the circulating coronavirus vaccines, has requested emergency authorization for a third vaccine dose -- a “booster” shot -- should it become necessary if cases continue to develop and strains continue to evolve. The booster would increase people’s immunity against the virus, though officials say it is not yet needed.
Still, cases are rising across the U.S. at an alarming rate after many states saw signs of improvement once vaccination rates increased. Health officials say most COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. are occurring among unvaccinated individuals.
As COVID infections increase in Michigan, a state that saw its lowest virus metrics ever earlier this summer, researchers say the state is vulnerable to a COVID-19 outbreak due to several factors.
The U.S. COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index, created by Surgo Ventures, assesses how well communities can respond to the “health, economic and social consequences of COVID-19 without appropriate response and additional support.” The data is broken down by counties in each state, which are each assigned a vulnerability level.
Overall, researchers say the state of Michigan has a “high” vulnerability to a COVID-19 outbreak, as of Aug. 5.
Here’s a look at the data from the COVID-19 Vulnerability Index that contributes to that label:
Factors putting Michigan at risk
Data from the COVID-19 Vulnerability Index shows that the several factors are causing the state of Michigan to be vulnerable to a virus outbreak.
Some of the most significant factors that affect vulnerability include residents’ health conditions and living environments, population density and issues within the health care system.
According to the index, a significant number of high risk residents are living in the northern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and throughout the Upper Peninsula. High risk individuals are those who are more likely to contract COVID, including “elderly adults and individuals with underlying conditions including respiratory conditions, heart conditions, obesity, diabetes and conditions related to immunodeficiency,” the report reads.
In addition to high risk individuals, there are a number of Michigan residents reportedly living or working in high risk environments. All throughout the state, those working or living in nursing homes or prisons, for instance, are considered to be in a high risk environment -- meaning a space where people are more likely to be exposed and/or vulnerable to COVID infection.
In the southern half of the Lower Peninsula, denser populations could help contribute to more rampant virus spread in a short period of time. Areas like Metro Detroit, Flint, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids are particularly more vulnerable to viral spread due to their large populations, the report shows. Most of the northern half of Michigan has an average or low population density.
Researchers say some Michigan counties are particularly at risk due to how their health care systems operate. The report identifies the capacity and preparedness of each community’s health care system to respond to COVID by looking at factors like the number of available hospital beds, pharmacies and health care spending in the area. Health care systems in counties like Isabella, Macomb and Monroe, for example, are labeled at a higher risk by the report -- meaning their health care systems may not be well prepared to respond to another outbreak. Several other Michigan counties have been labeled at an average-to-high risk due to the condition of their health care systems.
One significant factor that makes Michigan vulnerable to a COVID outbreak is the mobility of its residents, the report says. Michiganders appear to have been on the move in recent weeks, going to more places and practicing less social distancing -- particularly since the Fourth of July, when the state saw a huge spike in mobility.
Researchers say that decreasing mobility is a key step to decreasing virus spread, though obviously some people cannot practice social distancing due to their jobs.
The index also considers factors like the socioeconomic status of a community’s residents, the condition of households and their access to plumbing and the number of COVID testing sites available per county to determine if a county, or state, is vulnerable to an outbreak.
Michigan’s COVID hotspots
The index uses COVID-19 data, such as case numbers and hospitalizations, to determine what, if any, communities are serving as virus “hotspots.”
As of Aug. 5, the index lists 15 Michigan counties as current COVID hotspots, all in the Lower Peninsula, including:
- Alpena County
- Barry County
- Branch County
- Cass County
- Charlevoix County
- Huron County
- Jackson County
- Ingham County
- Iosco County
- Kalamazoo County
- Kalkaska County
- Montmorency County
- Ogemaw County
- Saginaw County
- Shiawassee County
No Michigan counties are currently labeled as an “extreme hotspot.”
Michigan COVID data
The numbers are trending in the wrong direction for Michigan once again.
On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the state reported an increase of 2,605 COVID cases over a four-day period, with a 7-day moving average of daily new cases at 694 -- more than five times what the average was on July 1. After experiencing its worst spike in COVID infections and hospitalizations in the spring, the state reported its lowest virus metrics in June.
Now those metrics are once again trending upward as the delta variant, now the most dominant COVID strain in the U.S., makes its way through the state and country.
The latest COVID data from the state shows that Michigan’s positive COVID test rate is nearing 6% after reaching a low below 2% in June. Health experts say positive test rates above 3% are cause for concern.
According to data from Covid Act Now -- -- a group comprised of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts and public policy leaders that monitors and identifies each state’s risk level for a COVID-19 outbreak -- Michigan’s infection rate is currently 1.37, meaning that each person who contracts COVID is infecting an average of 1.37 other people.
While the rising metrics are concerning, the numbers Michigan is reporting are not as bad as the COVID surge the state saw this spring, or the one last fall. Still, as colder weather approaches, experts caution that cases will likely rise even more as people move indoors, where the virus can spread more easily.
And conditions are worsening across the country. Michigan’s infection rate, which is considered high by Covid Act Now, is only the 15th highest in the nation. Other states like Florida, Louisiana and Wisconsin are experiencing significant outbreaks.
Conditions across the U.S.
Most of the U.S. Midwest has a high vulnerability to COVID, according to the index. Many states in the south, and population-dense states like New York and California, have a “very high” vulnerability label.
Florida, in particular, is struggling with rampant COVID spread once again, breaking its record for virus hospitalizations on Aug. 1 -- which was set last year, before vaccines were available. On Wednesday, more than 12,000 people were hospitalized with COVID across Florida, and nearly 2,500 of them were in ICU beds.
The rise in cases across the U.S. prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its mask guidelines. The CDC is now recommending that people, even those who are vaccinated, return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where COVID is surging -- which is much of the country, according to the CDC’s map.
The CDC reversed course on its lifted mask guidelines on July 27. The CDC is now recommending that those who live in areas experiencing “high” (red on the map) or “substantial” (orange) virus spread wear masks in indoor places, regardless of vaccination status.
Most of Michigan was not affected by the new guidelines at that time, as much of the state was not labeled in either of those categories. That quickly changed, however, after the state released another round of COVID data earlier this week, showing increased metrics. Now, nearly half of Michigan falls under the revised mask guidelines.
Amid the rising cases across the state, Michigan officials released updated COVID school guidelines for in-person learning on Wednesday ahead of the upcoming school year. Officials are urging schools to layer multiple prevention strategies, and are encouraging universal mask wearing.
A number of businesses and colleges in Michigan and throughout the U.S. are mandating COVID vaccines and masks to help prevent virus spread on their campuses.