Whitmer says COVID-19 still ‘going to hit Michigan incredibly hard’ as state nears 20K cases

Obtaining statewide health data creates transparency challenges

Detroit COVID-19 testing site | City of Detroit photo

COVID-19 cases in Michigan reached 18,970 on Tuesday, an increase of 1,749 cases since Monday.

A statewide coronavirus hotline is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

The number of deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus is now up to 845, with 118 new deaths reported Tuesday.

“We are still in the early upslope of what is going to hit Michigan incredibly hard,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “This novel virus has no cure and no vaccine. It is aggressively passed from person to person. And no one knows how their body is going to react to it.”

Seventy-one of Michigan’s 83 counties have cases and 40 have reported deaths. Health officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher, but there remains a test shortage and struggles obtaining data from providers statewide.

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Southeast Michigan continues to be hardest hit, with 15,195 of the positive cases, or 80% of the state’s total cases, reported in Macomb, Wayne and Oakland counties. 

Detroit, the only city with its own health department, has 5,476 cases and 222 deaths. The rest of Wayne County, where Detroit is located, sits at 3,569 cases and 180 deaths. Oakland County has 3,736 cases and 205 deaths and Macomb County reports 2,414 cases and 121 deaths.

The new state-reported numbers only recently began incorporating data from other commercial and private labs and hospitals around Michigan, which caused an apparent spike in numbers that speaks more to the number of cases just now being publicly reported.

Whitmer said the goal is to extend testing to Michigan’s general population. 

With more robust testing capabilities, the governor said the state would be able to better determine COVID-19 hotspots, figure out who needs to be isolated and improve the state’s modeling to anticipate hospital needs. 

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“On the other side of COVID-19, we’re going to want to know who has antibodies, that’s the people that got tested and we know recovered,” Whitmer said. “But it’s also using a blood test to test those who suspect they had COVID-19 but never had a confirming positive test.”

Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said limited data from hospitals and nursing homes is creating challenges for full-reporting from the state.

Whitmer said Michigan has a “very decentralized public health system,” but is working with providers who are not in compliance with state expectations. 

“We’ve been struggling to get complete compliance across the state. We’re building this kind of as we’re in the midst of the crisis,” Whitmer said. “Some [health providers] have been wonderful about complying, others it’s been a struggle.”

As for nursing homes and long term care facilities, Khaldun says the state’s “outdated” reporting and data systems are making it difficult to share accurate and robust data with the public.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun give an update on COVID-19 | Laina G. Stebbins

“We are currently discussing getting that nursing home data from across the state and being able to post it broadly,” Khaldun said. “We’re just, quite frankly, not quite there yet, but it is something that we want to move forward with.”

Whitmer declared a state of emergency on March 10, the day the first two cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state.

Johns Hopkins University reports that there are more than 1.4 million confirmed cases worldwide and nearly 81,000 deaths. In the United States, there are more than 383,000 confirmed cases and 12,021 deaths.