8 things you should know as Michigan hits 6 months of COVID-19

Detroit Memorial to Honor Victims of COVID-19 program cover

It has been 184 days — and what seems like an unending number of bad news cycles — since Michigan had its first two positive tests of COVID-19 on March 10.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer first declared a state of emergency that day. Although our cases and deaths have dropped since peaking this spring, the virus hasn’t left the state and health experts say it isn’t going to just disappear. In fact, COVID-19 transmission activity is predicted to spike in the looming fall and winter seasons. 

Here’s what you should know about the pandemic as we hit the six-month mark of coronavirus’ presence in the state.

1. We’re still under a state of emergency

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has extended a coronavirus state of emergency through Oct. 1. She first declared a state of emergency on March 10, when the first COVID-19 cases were discovered in Michigan.

Governors can declare a state of emergency if they believe a disaster or imminent threat exists that requires activation of the state’s applicable relief forces. 

Whitmer is currently facing two legal challenges — including one from the GOP-led Legislature — aimed at limiting her use of two key Michigan statutes to declare and continue states of emergency. There also are several longshot recall attempts in the works. And the right-wing coalition Unlock Michigan has launched a petition drive that organizers say has already gathered more than the 340,047 signatures of registered Michigan voters needed to get the matter before the Legislature, which would be expected to approve it. The governor cannot veto such measures.

2. What are Michigan’s case and death totals?

Michigan stands at 108,595 total COVID-19 cases and 6,552 deaths as of Wednesday. There are 6.4 million cases in the United States and 190,885 deaths.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also reports an additional 11,268 Michiganders are identified as “probable” cases for COVID-19, plus 335 probable deaths. The state defines probable cases as someone with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and an epidemiological link to a confirmed case. Some tracking, like the New York Times dashboard, uses the total number of confirmed and probable cases.

Combining the state’s confirmed positive cases with probable cases brings totals to 119,863 statewide cases and 6,887 deaths. 

The state reports that 80,678 people have recovered.

IHME COVID-19 projection for Michigan, Sept. 4, 2020

Seven Michigan counties have recorded a significant number of new COVID-19 cases in the last week, according to data tracking by the New York Times.  

  • Wayne — 1,138
  • Oakland — 641
  • Macomb — 498
  • Ottawa — 395
  • Ingham — 356
  • Muskegon — 350
  • Kent — 270

Michigan fatalities could reach more than 12,800 by Jan. 1, according to a projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. This is considered one of the most conservative models and it has been used by the White House.

That estimation increases to more than 17,000 deaths if the state eases COVID-19 restrictions such as indoor social distancing requirements and mask-wearing. 

3. Top counties where COVID-19 is active

The virus was heavily active in the Detroit region in the early stages of the pandemic, especially in the densely-populated counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. The virus later grew in Kent County, home to Grand Rapids.

Here are the 10 Michigan counties with the highest cumulative COVID-19 case counts:

  • Oakland — 18,888 cases
  • Wayne — 17,677 cases
  • Macomb — 13,433 cases
  • Kent — 8,832 cases
  • Genesee — 4,078 cases
  • Washtenaw — 3,072 cases
  • Saginaw —  2,692 cases
  • Ottawa — 2,664 cases
  • Ingham — 2,170 cases
  • Kalamazoo — 2,141 cases

4. What has opened? 

Whitmer ordered temporary closures of several nonessential businesses on March 23, a precaution she says she took in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. She allowed a number of industries to reopen in increments over the next several months. 

In June, restaurants were allowed to resume operations at half-capacity. Bars were also allowed to reopen, but after a significant COVID-19 outbreak was traced back to an East Lansing brewpub, indoor service was quickly shuttered again. 

K-12 school districts are in the process of reopening for remote, hybrid or in-person instruction, but several educators have expressed concerns about effectively teaching via new virtual class formats or possibly getting exposed to COVID-19 if they do teach in-person.

Whitmer most recently issued executive orders allowing gymnasiums, pools, bowling alleys and similar venues to open up to customers. 

Gyms, fitness centers and similar recreation venues were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity on Wednesday. Pools can also reopen at 25% capacity if they’re indoors and at 50% if they’re outdoors. Businesses in these categories are subject to revised safety guidelines from the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA).

In July, Whitmer signed a mask mandate and then strengthened it. People are required to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces. There are exceptions for those who are younger than 5, cannot medically tolerate a face covering, are eating or drinking while seated at a food service establishment, are exercising when wearing a face covering would interfere in the activity, or are at a polling place for purposes of voting in an election.

Michigan gyms can reopen at limited capacity, organized sports can resume 

5. The fatality rate has fallen

Michigan’s COVID-19 fatality rate rose to almost 10% in early June — for a time the nation’s highest. It has dipped over the summer and now stands at 6%. 

State officials attribute the decrease to a shift in which demographics are now experiencing higher rates of infection. 

Older residents — some with underlying health issues — were infected at high rates in the spring and early summer. The state also has increased testing for COVID-19, so the number of actual deaths weighed against a higher case count equates to a lowering fatality rate.

6. What’s leading to recent outbreaks?

The state is now tracking COVID-19 outbreaks in each of Michigan’s eight regions. The state’s coronavirus dashboard shows 61 new and 157 ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks, or “clusters” of infection. The data was last updated Sept. 3. 

The dashboard shows a majority of new and ongoing clusters are concentrated in long-term care institutions, like nursing homes or assisted living facilities. There are 15 new and 52 ongoing outbreaks, according to the data. 

Seven new clusters have popped up at colleges and universities in the state, six new clusters were detected at inpatient, outpatient and dental facilities and another six were traced back to social gatherings, like birthdays and graduation parties.

U of M students, faculty hold ‘die-in’ to persuade president to close campuses

7. How do we fare vs. other states?

After spending much of the spring in the top five states for COVID-19 cases, Michigan is now 18th, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking. Michigan ranks ninth in deaths.

Volunteer group COVID Act Now — a team of epidemiologists, health experts and public policy leaders who have been modeling U.S. coronavirus data for months — reports that Michigan is not yet on track to contain COVID-19.

COVID Act Now currently classifies Michigan as a yellow zone, a designation that disease growth is under control but still a threat. For a brief period in June, Michigan was one of just a few states designated as “green,” or on track to contain the disease. That designation later changed as the state experienced increases in daily case counts in the summer.

8. How many tests have been conducted?

The state reports it has conducted more than 3 million COVID-19 tests in that sixth-month period. The state has also conducted 265,430 serology tests — i.e., tests that detect if antibodies are present in a person’s bloodstream. Antibodies are proteins found in the blood of people after they test positive for an infection. They show an immune response to said infection. 

 

C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.