The Michigan COVID-19 landscape heading into 2022 is perhaps murkier than it was heading into 2021.
Last year, we knew vaccines would be rolled out to the masses by spring, and most of us assumed we’d be putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us by the fall, or at least by the end of 2021. As Lee Corso would say, not so fast.
The delta variant in the summer and fall, and now the omicron variant, have thrown some curve balls at the world’s pandemic plans, and now COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing around the globe, with Michigan setting a new daily case record in the state’s final data release of the year on Wednesday.
Of course, not every COVID-19 surge is the same, and not every country is the same. In the U.S., vaccines plus booster shots can provide a high level of protection against severe illness and death with the omicron variant, and early data shows omicron may be less severe than previous variants, despite spreading faster. But we need more data on all of that.
We also have new treatments rolling out, including a pill from Pfizer that treats the most serious symptoms of COVID-19, especially in higher risk patients, on top of existing treatments like monoclonal antibodies.
Still, the sheer volume of cases we’re likely to see to start 2022 could be enough to overwhelm some of our health care systems, which are already near a breaking point.
Here are five data points that show where the COVID-19 pandemic is in Michigan heading into 2022.
Cases are on the rise again after a short plateau
Before Wednesday’s record-breaking data on new cases, the 7-day moving daily case average was dropping, for the most part.
The 7-day average had dipped from about 7,200 down to 5,400. But that was before omicron became widespread, and before the Christmas holiday. Now, the 7-day average is at its highest point, again, around 8,400.
The CDC currently lists every county and state in the U.S. as experiencing a high spread of the virus, and encourages indoor masking regardless of vaccination status.
The highest case rates in Michigan, according to MDHHS analysis through Dec. 28, are among the 20-29, and 30-39 age groups. The lowest is among the 70 and older age group, which also happen to be the highest vaccinated group.
Worth noting here that with the explosion of at-home testing, cases could presumably be even higher as many positive tests go unreported to health departments.
Unvaccinated driving large majority of hospitalizations
If you look at any specific hospital in the state, you’ll find that a big majority of patients, especially those in critical care or on a ventilator, are unvaccinated, or are vaccinated with underlying health conditions.
According to MDHHS analysis, approximately 2.0% of people who were fully vaccinated have been reported with a breakthrough infection. About 15% of total cases reported have been among vaccinated patients, through Dec. 3.
Unvaccinated people in Michigan had 4.3 times the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and 13.2 times the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated persons; and the risk of infection and death is lower for those who receive a booster dose.
Hospitalizations and ER visits on the rise again
After a couple of weeks of decreases in both of these key categories, the trend has shifted once again to end the year.
Total COVID-19 hospitalizations, statewide, since peaking in mid-December, dropped down to below 4,000 last week. Wednesday’s update was the first increase in patients since Dec. 13. But another key indicator is how many symptomatic people are showing up to emergency departments.
Wednesday’s snapshot showed about 3,000 at ERs with COVID-19 symptoms, the highest we’ve ever recorded.
MDHHS analysis found hospital admissions for most older age groups are decreasing over the past week, but younger ages are increasing. The largest one-week increases were among those in the 20-29 group.
And regionally in Michigan, while most regions remain at lower levels of COVID+ hospital census compared to last week, several regions show increasing trends over the past few days, MDHHS said. Overall, the census of COVID+ patients in ICUs has decreased 12% from last week.
Deaths near pandemic highs for most age groups
MDHHS analysis found COVID-19 death rates for all age groups, except 20–29-year-olds, are now higher than the death rates during the Alpha (B.1.1.7) wave and nearly all younger age groups (<60) are experiencing pandemic high death rates.
Through Dec. 20, the 7-day avg. death rate is more than 70 daily deaths per million people for those over the age of 80. The proportion of deaths among those over 60 is steady over the last 30 days.
MDHHS analysis found out of about 10,200 deaths reported in 2021, 85.5% were among those who were not fully vaccinated.
Michigan lags behind in vaccinations
As of Dec. 29, 63.4% of Michigan’s population had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is 35th in the U.S. for states. About 57% are fully vaccinated.
About 20% of the 5-11 age group has at least one dose, About 45% of the 12-29 age group has at least one dose, and about 51% of the 16-19 age group has at least one dose. All three of those numbers are below the national average.
As of Dec. 28, about 2.2 million booster doses have been administered in Michigan, with the highest booster rates among the 50-64 age group.