Michigan may have missed COVID Thanksgiving surge sweeping nation

Travel in Michigan fell during the Thanksgiving holiday, and coronavirus cases have declined in the two weeks since, indicating that a feared surge may not materialize. (Shutterstock)

Michigan appears to have passed its first big holiday coronavirus test.

Travel fell substantially over Thanksgiving, following warnings to avoid large gatherings, and state health officials say a slow but steady decline in new coronavirus cases may indicate Michigan has missed a feared surge.

“We’re holding our breath, biting our fingernails right now,” said Steve Kelso of the Kent County Health Department.

Like many counties, Kent had fewer cases in recent weeks after a month in which its hospitals approached capacity as thousands got sick with COVID-19.

Two weeks ago, the county averaged nearly 560 infections a day; it’s been down to just under 400 per day, on average, the past week.

“We’re hopeful yet,” Kelso said.


Likewise, hospitalizations have fallen the past week and the percent testing positive, though still far higher than the 3 percent the state wants to see, has fallen in recent days to 12 percent. Most counties in the state are seeing the same trends.

The decrease in Michigan comes as daily COVID cases have surged by nearly a third nationwide, as daily cases on Dec. 10 jumped 28 percent to 233,570 from two weeks ago, while deaths were up nearly 50 percent.

Fearing a Thanksgiving surge, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and national health leaders urged people to limit the size of holiday gatherings. The state health department pushed a simple message: “Do things small.”

In Michigan, it appears many did exactly that.

Travel records compiled by the Michigan Department of Transportation show that the miles driven on Thanksgiving were down 39 percent from 2019, a stunning drop that is almost double the decline seen since Whitmer’s health director, Robert Gordon, ordered a three-week “pause” on some schools and businesses that began on Nov. 18.

A state traffic engineer, Chris Hundt, said the typical traffic numbers fluctuate 5 percent, based on weather and other events. The 39 percent drop is equal to if every person in the state, all 10 million of them, drove 10 miles less  on Thanksgiving, he said.


At Jerry’s Market in Tecumseh near Adrian, the proof was in the poultry.

Because so many were choosing smaller gatherings, people didn’t want the big 30-pound turkeys, said Steve Walmsley, Jerry’s grocery manager. Instead they turned to small cornish hens and relatively small 15-pound turkeys.

“Those were all gone quickly,” Walmsley said. 

Walmsley said he didn’t know anyone who had a big gathering, including himself. Typically he’d get together with four families and 25 people, he said. This year it was just him and his daughter.

“I think there were a lot of smaller [gatherings,]” he said.

Nationally, the Transportation Security Administration reported that pre-Thanksgiving airport traffic was less than half what it was in 2019, with 1.2 million passengers screened this year compared to 2.9 million a year ago.

In April, after Whitmer enacted her stay-at-home order, average daily motor vehicle traffic fell 56 percent as many businesses and schools were closed in an effort to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus.

But after a steep increase in cases in late October and throughout November, Gordon ordered the action that closed restaurants to dine-in service, closed high schools and colleges to face-to-face instruction and affected other businesses.

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Henry Ford Health System, said Michigan likely missed the surge because people heeded warnings.

But he fears that such good news might falsely reassure Michiganders that it's safe to gather for December holidays, despite high hospitalization rates and "staggering" caseloads nationwide.

"We're not out in the woods yet," he added, "but definitely the news that we've not seen a significant surge at the present time is reassuring."

Robin Erb contributed to this report.

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Dan Johnson
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 8:20am

On 12/01/20 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was on the television chastising for seeing loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday. She warned that "cases in Michigan could rise over the next couple of weeks because "too many people traveled for Thanksgiving." Those cases will take two to three weeks to show up in state data and are expected to increase state numbers ahead of the Christmas holiday, the governor said during a press conference." In reality cases went down.

Please apologize to everyone governor.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 8:38am

Dan, that is exactly correct. This article is revisionist history.

No where in this article does the author address the point you raise, which is the accurate statement of our state government's stance on Thanksgiving travel in the moment.

Why is impossible for any news outlet to actually report facts instead of agenda?

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 9:24am

Well you may not know that most news medias are owned and controlled by right wing republicans>>>> Do you think that they know that trump is a traitor and is the one spreading the virus through his hate rallies??? And that they like the governor are trying to save people life's?????

Sun, 12/20/2020 - 8:27am

Election is over, move on and rather than spew hate and negativity why don’t you support folks pointing out info that is relevant to the conversation. It’s not news that Michigan travel was down over Thanksgiving and thus cases are down which is completely opposite of what was told.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 8:55am

Politicians don't apologize and neither will she. She will treat this as a "win" for Michigan and praise everyone for staying home and safe. She will claim credit.

She will ignore repeating any comments that could make her look bad.

She is, above all else, a politician. This is what they do.

Get real!
Tue, 12/15/2020 - 4:57am

It is a win for her, to her credit, and a win for Michigan, to our credit. Don't be a crybaby.

Donna Hornberger
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 10:10am

Did you read the full article? Did you take in the information that fewer people were traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday and fewer people were buying large turkeys? Do you understand what that means? More people were following the Governor's advice. She needs to take a bow, not apologize.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 1:02pm

Perhaps you missed the point of his post. "On 12/01/20 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was on the television chastising for seeing loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday. " This was AFTER the holiday ... several days later.

Now, two weeks later, there is no surge in Michigan. His post was critical of her comments. His post was fair.

Michigan Made
Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:01am

So what? Some people did ignore her and did travel. She was right. Thankfully many more heeded her call not to travel. What else makes you tick? Time to turn your big Trump flag into the new king-size bed sheets they were meant to be. Sleep tight, sweet dreams in your China-made Trump sheets!

Sun, 12/20/2020 - 8:34am

This is why America is divided. That comment had nothing to do with who anyone supported, but to do with facts that she said she had but we’re completely opposite of what they factually were. Be a better human and support fair and minded folks voicing their opinion without then need to criticize - we are Americans, we are better than all this BS - do you remember 911 - we were Americans in a National crisis then and we can do it again but you have to be responsible to educate yourself first, before anyone else.

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 11:02am

Agreed. I thought the exact same thing about her comments in the press conference. Now the data is actually out, which she apparently didn't actually have on 12/1/20, but spouted that she did.

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:55pm

Point missed, Karen.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 8:48am

Maybe there is no spike because, and this might be hard to believe, being around family isn't detrimental to your health?? Certainly the rise in cases is because of the dramatic rise in testing. The virus is real yes, but turning our country into a socialist state is not the cure.

Matt G
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 9:37am

Jon, what is socialism?

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:04am

Jon has no clue what socialism is. He just heard Trump use it. He also thinks a virus knows whether or not people are family.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 9:21am

Remember that trump held a few of his hate rallies at the end of Oct to spread the virus to the people of Michigan!!!

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:09am

Thankfully those Trump supporters are running out of PPP money that they were using to fuel the Trump "Stop the Steal" campaign. There were only about five of them protesting the electoral college vote in Lansing. Their empty pocket will reduce the viral spread a bit. We need to really worry when they wise up and stop sending Trump money.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 9:26am

Bridge Magazine might look at seasonality and how Michigan's case counts parallel those of Wisconsin and Minnesota. That behavior accounts for the virus's trajectory is a premise not a fact.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 9:55am

Gee, if less people are gathering in large parties for Thanksgiving, then the number of cases will be down. I don't when Whitmer knew what but the fact is that we had a dramatic decrease in traffic with less people on the roads. One of the consequences of that is that people didn't have as many opportunities to spread Covid over a crowded table. Maybe cases are falling BECAUSE people decided to have small groups at home. So you folks are excoriating Whitmer because cases went down?

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 10:47am

Or maybe we really don't understand all the factors that drive the cycles we see in this or other diseases as well as we think? But I would bet big money that the explanation is not that residents of Michigan are more compliant than people are in general elsewhere. But as usual politicians and their minions want to grab the credit.

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:11am

Glad you aren't in charge.

Punkin Pie
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 10:53am

This Thanksgiving it was just my immediate family. As the day progressed, I realized how light I felt. The relief was palpable. Finally I realized that we had avoided the verbal assaults of extended family members I will call the Blowhard Brothers.

They sound a lot like some of the men commenting here. They direct their deep hatred of women towards Gov. Whitmer. As narcissists, they are angry they missed out on their God-given right to verbally abuse their extended families. Instead of directing their anger toward the person who did the most to extend the need for stay-home orders, Agolf Twittler, they issue thinly-veiled threats to the press and state government people trying to keep the death rate down.

I read this article to mean Whitmer’s ask might have actually worked. When I read these comments and am reminded of what I missed, I am enthusiastically looking forward to a small Christmas as well. We’ll see the Blowhard Brothers again soon enough.

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:17am

Amen. Much better this year!

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 6:01pm

I always appreciate when posts like yours display the core hatreds and prejudices that infest the speaker's soul. It is always better for the rest of us to know with certainty about your chauvinism. Your projection is noted.


Erwin Haas
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 1:00pm

I note that the upward slope on the enclosed bar graph broke on 17 Nov, the day before the governor imposed her latest restrictions. The new cases started declining well before these might have had any effect.

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:19am

Were you hoping for the opposite? Do you think nothing would have changed if people had big family gathering?

Common Sense
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 1:57pm

It is wrong to associate the decline of Covid-19 cases to Governor Witmer’s edicts. Very few people follow these orders. People adjusted on their own...as adults...as free citizens.

I call BS
Tue, 12/15/2020 - 5:23am

How can you prove that? The facts just do not support your comments. Restaurants are closed for in-person dining. People are abiding. Cases are down. You are not the president. You cannot just make up crap, like he does.

Big Dave
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 7:29pm

Funny how the Governor and her administration said voting in person was safe. But even in northern Michigan several polling sites were identified as Covid exposure sites afterwards. Then she said gathering for Thanksgiving would produce a surge. And it didn't. We had almost the same number of people around our Thanksgiving table as usual. Nobody got sick as a result.

Sorry, but I don't trust anything that comes from the Governor or anyone else in her administration.

Abe Bubush
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 8:09pm

Whitmer shut down Michigan Nov. 15. in time to avert the Thanksgiving disaster. You should be kissing her boots in gratitude. If she warned that a surge was coming because people would ignore the warning, think about the kind of person you are, and how out of touch you are if you opposed the governor.

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 9:55pm

How about Healthcare staff in the prisons..look at the numbers#!#!

Tue, 12/15/2020 - 8:40am

Does this mean she might allow people to open their businesses and earn a living? My home has now lost 40 weeks of income. Imagine going 40 weeks without a paycheck (no employment or government assistance either) while you keep racking up $30,000 a month in now owed Michigan taxes.

Thu, 12/17/2020 - 5:49pm

@ L E: If more people could behave better, more businesses would be open. Until EVERYONE wears a mask, avoid gatherings and wash their hands, we will have to close to keep our hospitals from becoming clogged. There's no reason to be having this surge and closures except for human behavior. It's just simple math, but people don't THINK.