Leaked White House report: U.P. COVID-19 surge holds Michigan back from full recovery

Sign encouraging social distancing at Bond Falls in the Upper Peninsula | Susan J. Demas

A recent private report uncovered from the White House Coronavirus Task Force shows there is concern over the COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where cases have been increasing for weeks.

Multiple counties in the western part of the U.P. are reporting high and increasing cases after a surge of cases in northern Wisconsin, and counties extending to the Mackinac Bridge and Emmet County in the Lower Peninsula are also seeing increased cases.

“Michigan’s success in controlling COVID-19 is being challenged by increasing cases due to incomplete compliance with mitigation measures and spreading outbreaks especially in the Upper Peninsula,” the report reads.

The task force, for which the document was compiled, includes Vice President Mike Pence, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services Alex Azar, among other key officials.

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The latest report dated Oct. 11, which was obtained by the Center of Public Integrity on Tuesday, shows that Michigan is in the “orange zone” for cases, meaning there are between 51 and 100 new cases per 100,000 people. 

Michigan has about 78 cases per 100,000 people, which is lower than the national average of 100 cases per 100,000 people. 

Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties reported the highest number of new cases in Michigan. Those three highly populated counties account for about one-third — 31.3% — of new cases in the state. 

Eighteen other states and Washington, D.C., fall under the “orange zone” category. 

About half of the country, 26 states, fall under the “red zone” category for case rates, which means over 100 new cases per 100,000 people. 

Five states, including Hawaii, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, fall under the “yellow zone” and have between 10 and 50 cases per 100,000 people.

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Michigan has the 34th highest case rate in the country.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Lynn Sutfin wasn’t able to comment on the findings of the task force report because she hadn’t yet reviewed the document. 

As of Wednesday, the state reports a total of 149,392 cases and 7,053 deaths since March 10 when the first case was reported in Michigan. 

As for testing, Michigan is in the “green zone” for test positivity, indicating a rate at or below 4.9% positivity. Michigan has a 3.8% test positivity rate, which is the 38th highest rate in the country.

The task force document says that Michigan “has been very successful with limiting transmission and disease thanks to a well-designed set of graduated mitigation measures and enhanced disease control capacity, including expanded testing.”

This statement does not align with President Donald Trump’s opinion of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic. Last week, he tweeted that she “has done a terrible job as governor” and has called on her multiple times to “reopen” the state, despite the fact that Michigan has largely reopened. The stay-home order has been lifted since early June, most businesses, schools and churches in the state are open and the Supreme Court struck down a 1945 law this month on gubernatorial powers, thus stripping her of her ability to unilaterally make executive orders during the pandemic. 

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Michigan still has restrictions on social gatherings and a mask mandate issued by DHHS. Whitmer told the Michigan Advance on Tuesday that “we’re going to continue to fight,” but the court decision “really undermined that work and created a lot of confusion.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Whitmer argued that COVID-19 cases have spiked since the Oct. 2 Supreme Court ruling. Michigan had already been experiencing an upswing, but state data show that the seven-day average has more than doubled since then.

The upsurge in cases, especially in the Upper Peninsula, can be controlled with “increased mitigation and strong community support in implementing these social distancing measures,” the task force wrote.

The White House panel is still recommending that public officials limit gathering sizes, require masks and limit capacity in stores, bars and other public venues, and recommend an increase of these safety measures in the Upper Peninsula to control spread. 

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.