Charting Michigan’s coronavirus path, hoping for South Korea and not Italy


Michigan, like much of the United States and the world, has witnessed a startling climb in the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, prompting widespread restrictions on schools, businesses and people.

But as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mulls a “shelter-in-place” edict to slow the pace of infections, residents and public officials can look around the globe and hope the state’s future is more like South Korea than Italy or Spain.

Massive testing and isolation are credited in South Korea for slowing the rate of infection — flattening the so-called curve — in ways that Italians have been tragically unable to achieve. 

While infections in South Korea have stabilized, they are still rising rapidly in Italy, where over 47,000 people have been infected and more than 4,000 have died. 

“You can look and see what [different countries] are or not doing and see if you can offset the rapid increase,” said Dr. Peter Gulick, an infectious disease expert at the Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Whitmer closed schools and many businesses early this week, when the state had just over 50 positive tests. Gulick said state health care officials were rightfully afraid that the number of positive cases would quickly multiply and, potentially, swamp hospitals.

“We’ll run out of everything,” he said if cases rise uncontrolled. “We can’t afford that.”

Michigan passed 400 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Friday, just 10 days after the state’s first two infections were announced. The state’s total stood at 549 cases by Friday afternoon.  

Where this virus takes Michigan from here is of course unknowable. But we might look to the experience of other nations as a guide. 


Bridge modeled what Michigan can expect in the weeks ahead based on how a country such as South Korea has fared. South Korea has been praised for taking aggressive steps to reduce community spread. Bridge also modeled some of the nations hit heavily by the coronavirus — Italy, Spain and France.  

Even in the best-case scenario, no country has avoided sharp increases once the virus arrived. Michigan will be challenged to provide enough tests, hospital beds, medical and safety equipment to handle the outbreak. At the same time, it’s important to note that most people diagnosed do not become seriously ill or require hospitalization.


South Korean officials have tested more than 270,000 people, at a rate of 5,200 tests for every 1 million residents.

People there have their temperatures checked constantly and, if high, they undergo testing. That’s allowed the government to isolate thousands of cases. The United States, by contrast, has conducted 74 tests for every 1 million people. It’s just been in the last few days that testing has become more widespread.


The Italian experience has been horrific. Confined initially to northern Italy, the virus has spread but is still hammering northern provinces the hardest, with reports of overflowing hospitals, backlogs at crematoriums and despair throughout the country.

After earlier restrictions on northern Italy, like closing bars and restaurants after 6 p.m., Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte put the entire country on lockdown on March 8. But by then, the country already had 7,400 cases identified, with positive cases rising a week later to more than 24,000. As of Friday, confirmed cases exceeded 47,000, with more than 4,000 deaths — including 627 deaths in just 24 hours.





France and Spain didn’t start seeing massive rises until two weeks after Italy. But in the days since, both countries have seen a remarkable increase. 

Last Sunday, Spain ordered the country’s 46.7 million to stay home except for work or buy essential supplies or medicine

But by then, Spain had 8,000 confirmed cases. Five days later, Spain saw a single-day jump of over 3,400 and now has over 21,000 cases and 1,092 deaths. 

Also last Sunday, France ordered residents to stay home and closed cafes, restaurants, cinemas and most shops. France was likely spurred by a huge spike in cases, which last Sunday jumped to 5,423, including 127 deaths. 

By Friday, confirmed cases had jumped above 12,000 in France with 450 deaths. 

The experiences abroad, Gulick said, highlight the need to take action now. What may be inconvenient, he said, is essential to slow the path of the illness if Michigan wants to mitigate what could become an even deeper tragedy. 

“We’ve got to do something real quick,” he said. “We have days, not weeks.”

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Fri, 03/20/2020 - 8:28pm

Make all the graphs have the same y-axis scale! It’s hard to compare them with different ranges without really looking closely.

With everyone’s academic conferences cancelled, there are probably loads of grad students who would love the opportunity to do some graphing (jk)

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 9:09am

This could have just as easily been graphing testing occurrences which would have given similar slopes but not the reaction. Strangely that we find what we are testing for and this never mentions numbers of tests being performed over the same time period. Kind of disappointing sensational and sloppy journalism, Bridge should be better than this. Similarly, attributing deaths to Wuhan flu, when many of these unfortunate individuals were hanging by a thread to begin with waiting for the next thing to snap it. If someone is struggling with lung cancer and gets the Chinese virus and finally dies, what was the cause? Today it's the Chinese virus and never mentioning the cancer, because it feeds the narrative even though we've had a very serious flu hanging around pretty much all winter prior which would lead to the same outcome. A big part of the problem is people don't trust news sources today and the sense they're being steered, with some good reason.

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 12:40pm

This is just terrible journalism design to scare people. If you're going to use statistics, then use the right ones that show the real situation. Very Sloppy!! Shouldn't have been even published.

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 2:41pm

It would be helpful if record keepers could at least use age categories for both infections and especially deaths. That's hard to find. And also some indication of underlying health conditions of those who are dying, if that would be possible.

Sun, 03/22/2020 - 10:31am

See the state web site under cumulated data they have age breakdown.

Pat Nelson
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 9:37am

I also would highlight that reporting on "cases" with no reference to testing is of limited (although still some) value. We really have no idea how many people have the virus, or any reasonable path to halting it, until significant, strategic testing is employed.

Matt M.
Mon, 03/23/2020 - 7:47am

1 stat I wish they would add to the totals and fatalities would
be the actual number hospitalized.