Michigan riding ‘second’ COVID wave that could bring more deaths

Average daily deaths from the coronavirus, while still far lower than during the initial outbreak in the spring, are at their highest levels since then. (Shutterstock)

Michigan’s battle with the novel coronavirus has taken a sharp turn, with the volume of cases sharply increasing almost daily along with hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths.

For the past week, there have been over 1,100 newly confirmed cases a day. More than 1,000 people with COVID-19 are now in Michigan hospitals, following a recent low of 500 on Sept. 25. 

And deaths, which had been low, are creeping up in a likely “second wave” that will bring more cases — and more heartbreak.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive and deputy director of the state health and human services department, said Tuesday that average daily deaths, now at 13, while still far lower than during the initial outbreak last spring, are at their highest levels since then.


“We will potentially and quite frankly likely see those deaths increase,” Khaldun said during a news conference with other state health officials.

The news comes as neighboring states are hitting their highest case levels ever and the winter flu season looms, bringing the potential for overloaded hospitals that could be stretched to capacity.

A potential surge would come as many are suffering from “pandemic fatigue” that comes after seven months of mask mandates, social distancing and economic shutdowns.

“Our case rates in our hospitalizations are rising and now that the weather is getting colder and people are less likely to do outdoor activities, it's more important than ever” to take precautions to protect families and neighbors, Khaldun said.

“Remain vigilant. Take this seriously no matter what part of the state you live in. Things like wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings … washing hands frequently; those things work. Stay home if you are sick so you do not spread the disease to others.”

Health officials are seeing caseloads and hospitalizations increase across every region of the state. And a greater percentage of coronavirus tests are coming back positive, indicating wider spread of the disease. On Tuesday, the state reported that 4.7 percent of tests were coming back positive, the highest rate since late May and well above the target of 3 percent or lower.

While the Upper Peninsula has been leading the state in new cases on a per capita basis, other areas are showing marked increases, too: The Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing regions are seeing their highest case counts since the pandemic began, Khaldun said.

Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said hospitals across the state are seeing rises in cases, from the emergency room to the intensive care units. Staffing has been tough in some because employees have had to quarantine because of coronavirus exposure, he said.


In the spring, Michigan was one of the leading states in coronavirus cases and deaths, with over 3,000 dying in April alone. But after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enacted emergency orders that shuttered businesses and schools and required mask usage, cases went down dramatically and the state was later able to reopen much of the economy.

But as cases have begun to rise and after the Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled Whitmer can no longer impose emergency restrictions without the input of the Legislature, there is less certainty about what steps the state will now take to halt further increases. 

Peters, of the hospital industry group, said he is hopeful state leaders and residents will make safe choices.

“We must stop this trend and we must stop it now,” he said.


Less deadly

The recent rise in COVID-19 infections has not brought with it the volume of deaths suffered last spring. Cases are more widely distributed across the state and therapies and treatments have improved in Michigan, as they have elsewhere.

Peters said demography has helped, with many of the new cases in August and September among younger residents, such as students, who are less likely to get seriously ill. But medical professionals have also learned how to better treat COVID-19, he said.

“We're learning as we go and I think the willingness of [hospitals] to share with each other and with their counterparts and other states as well… this is a learning curve for everybody and certainly there is good news to share.”

Experts attribute the improved outcomes to a host of factors. Fewer patients spread across more hospitals have allowed for better care. Treatments have changed and some therapies have emerged, like using remdesivir,  which aided in President Trump’s recovery.

And after the coronavirus ravaging nursing home residents in Michigan and elsewhere, changes were made to better protect those populations and many more are taking their own precautions, such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds.

“All these precautions are definitely helping,” said Dr. Teena Chopra,  a professor of infectious diseases at Wayne State University who is in charge of infection control at Detroit Medical Center.

Chopra said she has noticed that patients she sees at the Detroit Medical Center are younger, by about a decade, than those who were arriving in March and April. That’s made them more resilient to COVID-19. But it doesn’t mean it’s no longer to be feared.

“The virus is not going to magically disappear,” Chopra said.

Dr. Teena Chopra says she’s noticed patients at the Detroit Medical Center are younger than those who arrived at the start of the pandemic.

Troubling signs

In fact, Khaldun said Tuesday that long-term care facilities for senior citizens are again seeing an increase in cases. Earlier this year, nursing home patients accounted for about a third of all deaths, in part because the elderly have suffered the worst from COVID-19.

But Peters stressed that the state’s hospitals are able to handle the current surge.

For instance, in early May, nearly 1,000 COVID-19 patients were in Michigan intensive care units; it was 230 on Monday. 

“The good news is we're not in a capacity crisis in our hospitals today, but we could be soon if people aren’t committed to return to the level of vigilance we saw earlier in the year,” Peters said.

But many are suffering from “pandemic fatigue,” said Nick DeRusha, a health officer for several Upper Peninsula counties. Many residents followed the rules in the spring when there were few cases in the region. Now, many have stopped following the rules as caseloads, especially in the western Upper Peninsula, have soared.

“For whatever reason they don't believe that they need to abide by public health guidance and they don't believe the pandemic is as severe as it is,” DeRusha said.

That’s made it hard for public health officials to track or control cases, ensure people stay in quarantine, and cooperate with contact tracers. And that had led to even more cases.

“Sadly we have seen on multiple occasions where individuals have broken quarantine to attend another social gathering and later tested positive, exposing more people to the virus and leading to more cases,” DeRusha said.

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middle of the mit
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 7:36pm

One of two things is going to happen.

Either this is a hoax, that will be gone shortly after election day.(Shout out cons!)

Or, it is going to be worse than what we experience in the spring, because there won't be ANY restrictions. The people up here have at most a 50% compliance with masks. It was higher, but the last few weeks? NOT so much.

WE have to come to terms with some hard truths.

Your family members are going to sick from you. You are going to have deal with the fall out from other family members NOT taking precautions........then infecting those you care about........and them getting sick or dying. It just happened with my family, well, extended family but, you know how it works.

I have finally come to the conclusion..............that IS YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. It's not my fault. I wear a mask wherever I go. It IS YOU who decide NOT to do that. And I am no longer going to feel bad when it happens to you.....even if you are related to me. Why should I? YOU are the ones that allowed it!

It's on you now. The nursing home deaths, All OF IT!

Deal with it. I am sure you won't lose much sleep.

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 7:45am

Cold and flu season has been a part of life since I have been alive. People get sick and those with underlying conditions , aged or weak struggle and sometimes die and even more in previous years than what covid produced, my understanding from reading statistics. It is a personal responsibility, if you are one of those I listed or are worried... protect yourself. Why shouldn't it be left up to the healthy individuals to weigh the consequences and decide what they want to do? specially now knowing the science and with our own eyes seeing what is going on that we should continue to destroy and penalize healthy people destroying their jobs, livelihoods, futures and want to continue locking them down and telling them where they can go and who they can congregate with to mitigate the effects of the cold and flu season. It just doesn't sound right, unless there is alternative motives or the desire to control people that out weighs rational circumspective thinking. or it is what you have chosen to hang your hat on to find value in life?
I do accept their are people that think otherwise and seem to be unable to wiegh the conquencidentally harm being inflicted for the most part needlessly on the citizenry, but I hope equally they can understand my point view of not wanting to cause all this harm. That is why we have elections and a constitution the can riegn in a lawless Governor like what has happen in michigan. Now the people will have some imput through their representatives.

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 3:00pm

A.) It's global

B.) Now the MDHHS has more power than Whitmer ever had to place restrictions

middle of the mit
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 7:20pm

It would be nice if when someone rebutted my comment, I would be able to rebut theirs. But when you're pushing back with facts, I guess you have to handicap me?

And you wonder why I still have lingering suspicions about both sidesing things?

Are you going to allow a civil debate, or do you want us to chuck food against a wall and see what sticks?

I can do that! I just don't want to. But if that is all the press allows. Why would the so called defenders of democracy not want individuals to have conversations where, even if tempers do get high, no one gets hurt, but are also able to reflect on what was said, and what and how they are going to respond?

That is not in the spirit of non partisanship.

I was hoping that this would be a good place for that. But you have all deemed it just a food fight. At least the conservatives on here, that do respond, have a semi reasonable response. Look to the Free Press and now the Detroit News. Is that what you want your board to be? I don't. But I do want conversation with people who don't think like I do. And you can't do that in person anymore. I don't know why. Tempers flare and things get heated. At least here, you can reflect on what needs to be said instead of shouting out whatever comes to your mind. That is why I thought this board could be something like that. I guess not.

Here comes the food fight!! Lots of un-rinsed pasta! Refried beans! Guacamole!

Let it fly!

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 6:59am

Dah, did all this destruction stop the cold & flu season from returning this year? There are many different changing covid strains and most of these do not test for just the covid 19 marker according CDC. The tests will pick up many covids that have been active in the world in the last 10 years. We have to have a better strategy than destroying the economy , unless that was the plan. And protecting the most valunerable, than shoving knowingly infected covid patients into nursing homes infecting and killing many more like the Witmere ordered and her administration followed through with. I am glad the truth is coming forth when the lies can't be maintained. Or like that saying the truth will out live a lie, but boy the destruction that can happen before it does.

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 9:35am

So now it is clear, the LOCKDOWN was an utter failure, did nothing but destroy the economy and give the Democrat party an issue to attack Prez. trump on!! I doubt this post will see the light of day.

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 10:55am

Easy to find info just google number of deaths in Michigan. 2019 Sept. total deaths in Mich. 7734, Sept 2020 total deaths in Mich. 5399. This is from the STATES' own official health department. So how are these numbers so different than what we hear from Whitmer etc....

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 10:58am

I find it interesting that the CDC came out and said a full 95% of the 200,000 plus deaths were not from covid alone but were deaths with co-morbidities...why isn't that being touted?

Fri, 10/16/2020 - 8:42am

That claim isn't being touted because without context, it's dangerously misleading. Instead, reputable news sources are pointing out that certain underlying conditions can put people at a higher risk for hospitalization, complications, or death if they become infected with COVID. These are underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity that cover huge swaths of the population.


This isn't a new concept, like the article I linked points out. The example they use is HIV/AIDS: 'More than 32 million people worldwide have died so far of HIV/AIDS, for instance, but the disease itself isn't usually the immediate cause of death. Dr. Shahnaz Azad, an infectious disease expert in Olympia Fields, Illinois, told Franciscan Health, "It's not HIV that kills you. HIV kills your immunity, and then you become susceptible to all kinds of infections and cancers."
A death certificate might list a primary cause of death as Kaposi's sarcoma, for instance, but in fact, that patient would never have acquired the otherwise rare type of cancer if they hadn't been infected with HIV. The HIV virus is still what ultimately killed the person. '