Hospital and health officials increasingly are worried about a sustained surge of the coronavirus, with cases rising this week to their highest levels since April.
The pandemic is moving to a new phase in Michigan — less deadly, but more ubiquitous, as it moves quickly throughout the state, from highly populated Kent County to sparsely rural areas in the Upper Peninsula.
“We’re very worried here, and public health officials across the state and across the country are worried,” said Adam London, Kent County’s health officer.
Michigan on Thursday recorded 2,030 cases, the most since the pandemic began in mid-March. That tally, however, included an undisclosed number of cases from previous days that should have been reported earlier. Even so, the state’s new seven-day average is 1,359, the most since April.
Michigan also recorded 32 deaths on Thursday, and the state is on pace for over 400 deaths in October. That’s up from an average of 280 the past three months, but a fraction of the 3,353 who died in April.
In the first month of the pandemic, 80 percent of the cases were in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, and much of Michigan had none.
On Thursday, the three-county region accounted for just 27 percent of new cases.
Instead, areas around Battle Creek, Flint, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Holland and Marquette are sharing the increase — and a surge of COVID-19 hospital patients.
“We are currently buried as a staff,” Eric Pessell, the health officer for the Calhoun County Public Health Department, wrote in an email to Bridge Michigan.
“Hospitalizations in Calhoun are at their highest since May.”
Calhoun County is in the southwest Michigan region that has had the biggest jump in hospitalizations, with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients rising from 48 on Sept. 30 to 126 on Thursday.
Statewide, hospitalizations are up over 50 percent during that time to 1,029, with the Grand Rapids region and metro Detroit also amid big increases.
Kent County reported 200 new infections on Thursday, the most in the state, pushing its seven-day average to 146, up from 95 the previous week. It is now recording an average of 22 new daily cases per 100,000, up from 15 the previous week.
The state overall is at 13 new daily cases per 100,000 and many counties are seeing that rate rise rapidly as cases spread.
“We don't know if this is a blip. We don't know what it's going to look like going forward,” said Steve Kelso, spokesperson for the Kent County Health Department.
“We don't know if this is going to be a long and bad winter.”
Even more worrisome: Many cases aren’t tied to single events but instead are spread through numerous gatherings, said London, Kent’s health officer.
Of 170 cases among K-12 students since August, just six were connected to spread in the classroom, while 99 cases were connected to exposures outside of school. The cause of infection among another 65 cases among students was unknown — evidence of “community spread,” he said.
“We are all suffering pandemic fatigue. We’re tired of hearing about masks and handwashing and social distancing, but now is not the time to let down our guard,” London said.
He and others worry that cool temperatures and shorter days are sending people inside — when normal cold and flu season kicks in. What Michigan is seeing is playing out across the Midwest with neighboring states of Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin all hitting record highs.
In the Upper Peninsula, two cases of COVID at an Oct. 2 American Legion fish fry in Munising in Alger County grew to 24 by Wednesday, prompting the group to announce it would close temporarily.
“We’re seeing people who are testing positive and weren’t at the Legion, but are connected to people who were there on the 2nd,” said Kerry Ott, spokesperson for the LMAS Health Department, which serves four counties in the eastern Upper Peninsula.
“Our nurses in Alger (County) are just swamped,” she said.
Many more infections are likely as the positive test rate in the state, about 3 percent for months, has creeped to 4.8 percent of more the 42,000 tests reported Thursday.
That includes nearly 13 percent of over 1,000 tests in Calhoun County, over 11 percent in Marquette County, where dozens of staff at the state prison have been infected and 7 percent in Macomb County.
In all, 35 counties were over 5 percent positive, including Detroit’s suburban Wayne and Oakland counties.
Detroit, the hardest-hit city in April, is still below 3 percent, at 2.6 percent Thursday.