Give thanks: No fall wave of COVID in Michigan
As Michigan and the nation are just weeks from beginning the fourth year of COVID-19, the signs are remarkably positive, according to new state data release Monday and Tuesday:
- For the first time since July, Michigan hospitals are treating fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 positive patients.
- New confirmed cases fell this week to the lowest level since April.
- The coronavirus positive test rate is now the lowest since May.
The good news is widespread: hospitalizations have declined in every region in Michigan after hitting a recent high, state records show.
New confirmed cases fell to 6,927, down from 11,145 a week ago, when a backlog of tests artificially boosted the total count, and down from two weeks ago when there were 7,966.
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The positive test rate fell to 11 percent, from 12.6 percent a week ago and the lowest rate since May 2 when it was 10.9 percent.
But as Thanksgiving and the holidays approach, other data shows that the virus remains a threat: the state reported 223 deaths on Tuesday, the most since February.
Though the deaths spanned several months, including 158 in November and 61 in October, they underscore that the virus is still taking lives daily across Michigan.
Targeting the elderly
Among those hardest hit: older residents and those who are unvaccinated or are not fully boosted.
Since September, 75 percent of all COVID-19 deaths have those 70 years old or older — well above the 65.6 percent of all deaths before 2022.
As the omicron variant has proven less severe for many, especially those with up-to-date vaccinations and boosters, it still can cause severe illness and death. After a high of 2,137 COVID-19 deaths in January, deaths fell to 363 in March and 377 in April.
The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that vaccination can play a substantial role in protecting people. For those 80 years old and older who are not vaccinated, there were an average of 14 deaths per 100,000 people.
For those who were vaccinated but did not have an updated booster, the rate was just under 4 deaths per 100,000. The rate was zero deaths for those fully vaccinated and boosted.
“It is very stark,” said Dr. Phil Levy, an emergency medicine physician at Detroit Receiving Hospital and a Wayne State University researcher. “If you’re not up-to-date (on vaccinations) you are exposing yourself to substantial risk.”
In Michigan, 69.1 percent of those 12 and older have the primary vaccinations, compared to 76.9 percent nationally. Among those 65 and older, 90.9 percent have the primary vaccines, compared to 93.7 percent nationally.
COVID-19 deaths persist
COVID-19 deaths this year are well below 2020 and 2021, when over 32,400 combined died from the disease. So far, over 8,281 have died this year, well below 2021’s 15,007.
Nearly 4,400 died in January and February alone as the omicron variant sent case counts soaring and thousands ended up hospitalized. Then, monthly deaths fell below 400 a month in March and April.
But since April Michigan is still averaging just over 500 COVID-19 deaths a month. That’s equal to 6,000 a year and would make it the No. 3 killer in Michigan, behind heart disease and cancer, in every year since 2000.
Levy said in Detroit, where the pandemic’s “collateral damage” limited people’s access to care, COVID-19 will be the No. 2 killer behind heart disease and above cancer.
Public health officials continue to advocate for vaccinations and taking precautions like wearing masks when appropriate, avoiding others if you are sick and — if you do contract COVID-19 — taking tests to ensure you are no longer contagious before going back to work and social settings.
Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, also noted that older residents are also more vulnerable to severe illness from respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 and influenza.
“We recommend residents of all ages stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, including getting the new bivalent booster dose when they are eligible, as well as getting their flu shot to protect against seasonal influenza spread,” Sutfin said in an email to Bridge Michigan. “These safe and effective vaccines remain our best defense against serious illnesses and death.”
Levy said the news about the virus’ current decline is welcomed. But he said older residents and those with serious health problems are still at risk and must remain wary.
“I think a lot of people are so fatigued with COVID-19,” he said, and some may let down their guard against a disease blamed for over 36,300 deaths in Michigan. Yet though he’s concerned that new variants may cause trouble, “I remain hopeful that people are going to do the things to protect themselves.”
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