MDHHS: ‘Push harder’ on coronavirus mitigation as metrics rise

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — As public health officials track increases in several coronavirus metrics, showing the virus is spreading more quickly across Michigan, they are urging people not to let up on mitigation protocols.

“This is all a balancing act. While we’re getting more and more vaccine on board, which will reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases, it’s important that we push this seesaw … so that we’re reducing the spread of COVID-19. It’s important not to give in to COVID fatigue,” Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, warned. “We need to push harder on masking and social distancing. Michigan has very good mask use, but we need to make sure that people are doubling down on that.”

“It remains just as important today as it was three months ago for people to wear masks, wash hands and socially distance,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, agreed.

They also reminded people to move any gatherings outdoors if possible.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE

Michigan on Wednesday announced its largest single-day increase in virus cases since Jan. 5 with 3,164 more confirmed cases, bringing its total to 615,792 since it was first detected here a little more than a year ago. The tally of total related deaths stood unchanged at 15,810.

On Tuesday, labs tested 36,137 samples for the virus and 2,284 were positive. That’s a positivity rate of 6.32%. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.

Kent County added 178 more cases for a total of 50,354 since the start of the pandemic. It has had 664 deaths.

Wayne County, hit hardest by the virus, confirmed 534 more cases for a total of 99,469 since the start of the pandemic. Its total number of deaths was revised down by two to 3,977. This has not been uncommon as cases are double-checked and sometimes moved between jurisdictions. Neighboring Oakland County has had 67,731 total confirmed cases (420 more than the previous day) and 1,918 deaths. Macomb County has had 58,363 cases (425 more) and 1,891 deaths.

CASES TRENDING UP AMONG YOUNGER PEOPLE

MDHHS hosted a virtual meeting Wednesday morning to show that Michigan’s coronavirus case rates have been rising since mid-February. Lyon-Callo said people ages 10 to 19 have the highest current case rate and it is increasing the fastest of any age group.

“It’s pretty clear that we are experiencing an increase in cases. The case rate increases are really increasing for those that are under the age of 70, so this is a different patter than we’ve seen before,” Lyon-Callo said.

Michigan now ranks ninth in the nation for highest number of cases (up three spots) and 10th in highest case rate (up 17 spots). The state is now seeing a sharper increase in cases than any of its Great Lakes neighbors.

The positivity rate is rising or plateauing in every region. The statewide seven-day average of the positivity rate is now above 5%. In southwestern Michigan, the average positivity rate is above 7%. Public health officials look for a rate below 3% to show community spread is controlled.

Meanwhile, the number of people getting tested for COVID-19 has plateaued.

“We need that number to be increasing as we see our positivity increasing,” Lyon-Callo said.

Health leaders urging people that even as the vaccine rollout continues, it is important to get tested if you aren’t feeling well or have come in contact with someone else who has tested positive so we can track the virus and contain outbreaks.

There are more outbreaks in K-12 schools, with Lyon Callo pointing to larger outbreaks at high schools.

She also noted that outbreaks in long-term care facilities are declining, which she said shows the effect of vaccinations. At this point, everyone in nursing homes has had the opportunity to get at least their first vaccine shot.

“We are seeing in those environments where we have been able to get a large number of people vaccinated, outbreaks being reduced,” Elizabeth Hertel, the director of MDHHS, said.

Hospitalizations have been up for three consecutive weeks and Lyon-Callo said growth is accelerating. The state now ranks 20th in the nation for hospital beds serving COVID-19 patients (up five spots) and 24th in number of adults in the ICU (up six).

The good news is that the death rate continues to decline, as it has been doing for 12 weeks. We rank 24th in highest number of deaths and 42nd in highest death rate, with both rankings down four spots.

But Lyon-Callo also warned that the death rate is a lagging metric; it’s the last one to see a change in trajectory after positivity, case and hospitalization rates.

“We are not near, quite frankly, the herd immunity numbers…” Khaldun, the chief medical executive, said. “So while we are hopeful that as we get more and more vaccines into the state and more and more people vaccinated, we will not see the type of surge we saw in 2020, I still think we are at risk.”

She added that the spread of coronavirus variants against which vaccines may be somewhat less effective will also affect what we see next.

Lyon-Callo said Michigan has now recorded 725 confirmed cases of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant in 31 counties across both peninsulas; more than half of those come from an outbreak within the state prison system. The state’s cases make up 15% of all confirmed B.1.1.7 cases in the nation, but Michigan also has a more robust testing process than many other states. There has also been one case of the highly contagious B.1.351 variant in Jackson County.

Michigan has received more than 3.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine; about 3.2 million of those have been administered. A little more than 2 million people in the state have gotten at least their first dose of the vaccine — more than 25% of the population over the age of 16. Lyon-Callo said the state is doing well in making sure people get their second doses on time.

Hertel, the MDHHS director, said state officials are keeping an eye on the data as they decide what will happen next with virus restrictions.

“We continue to … work with stakeholders on their processes and procedures to continue to loosen restrictions in a way that we believe is safe and will not result in another spike of cases, which we are always concerned about,” Hertel said. “So it’s an ongoing conversation.”

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