For now, Michigan is a success story in flattening the pandemic curve

flu swabs

Among the good news from the state’s coronavirus dashboard is the plummeting percentage of positive results among those who are tested. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Once one of the hardest-hit states, Michigan has – at least for now – managed to  flatten the coronavirus curve in a way that is drawing national attention.

And while health officials warn that the deadly virus could come roaring back if residents let their guard down, the trends are encouraging.

Consider: 

According to the data released Tuesday by the Michigan Department of Human Services:

  • Michigan’s COVID-19 cases have fallen to below 200 for a seven-day stretch — its lowest since March 11. On Tuesday, the state reported 125 new cases.
  • Deaths fell into single digits for several days this week, with a high of 26 deaths reported June 11 and less than 100 for the entire week — compared single-day totals of more than 100 cases for 18 days in April.
  • Just 343 people remained hospitalized with COVID-19 as of June 16, less than one tenth of the hospitalizations — 3,674 — exactly two months earlier.
  • Positive results of diagnostic tests made up less than 3 percent of the total tests every day since the rate fell to 2.37 percent on June 6 — an indication not only of lower infection rates, but also of the availability of testing compared to the early days of the pandemic.
    Precisely how many tests are needed before reopening states has been hotly debated, but the World Health Organization has recommended that positive cases need to be below about 10 percent of the total before safely reopening the economy.
 

COVID-19 slammed into Michigan in early March. In 3½ months, the virus has sickened more than 60,000 residents and killed at least 5,790 Michiganders. Just two months ago, hospitals in southeast Michigan were nearly overwhelmed with coronavirus cases. At one point, refrigerated trucks were used to store bodies of those who had succumbed to the virus. 

Since then, Michigan's decline in cases and deaths has been substantial and, relative to neighboring states, largely unique. Just a month ago, Michigan was averaging more than 700 new cases a day, well above Ohio's 500 to 600.

But since then, Ohio's case count has remained between 400 and 500, while Michigan has fallen to roughly 150 a day.

Since May 1, Ohio has had 5,200 more confirmed cases than Michigan (23,267 to 18,029) and 81 more deaths (1,595 to 1,514).

Michigan’s data stretch back to March 1 — more than a week before the state announced its first confirmed case on March 10. Subsequent case investigations placed the virus in Michigan earlier than previously detected, confirming 14 infections as March opened and at least 200 active infections by March 11. 

 

Within days, the state was shuttered, its hospitals and morgues in southeast Michigan overwhelmed.  Daily case counts continued to climb to a high of 1,953 new cases April 3 before beginning a halting drop downward days later.

At the University of Michigan “we have seven ongoing clinical trials for COVID patients and no COVID patients, and that's a good thing,” said Dr. Robert Hyzy, a pulmonary and critical care specialist with the University of Michigan. 

National attention

Michigan’s precipitous decline in coronavirus cases has been noticed nationally.

 

The data analysis website Covid Act Now has marked only Michigan and New York as states “on track to contain COVID,” and CNN listed Michigan as the only state in the country to see infection rates drop by at least 50 percent week-over-week. Overall, CNN identified Michigan as one of 22 states with declining cases, even as 18 others see an increase in cases. In 10 states, cases are stable.

"Michigan is standing out," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a Wednesday morning press conference, crediting stay-at-home orders with forcing the downward trend, and noting the uptick in cases elsewhere.

Some states — Alabama, South Carolina, Oklahoma and California, among them — are reporting sharp increases in COVID-19 numbers.

 

What we want to avoid desperately is for Michigan to emulate what is happening in other states where people have dropped their guard, where people will have reengaged in an unsafe manner, and where they see positive cases ramping back up,” Whitmer said. 

And she again called on social distancing measures and the use of masks in public: "Masks should not be political. They are designed to save our lives.”

Despite the encouraging trend, U-M’s Hyzy and others, including Dr. Teena Chopra, who oversees infection control at Detroit Medical Center, cautioned that Michigan will continue to teeter on the edge of a second wave of the deadly virus for months.

Michigan now must focus on “outbreak management,” said Dr. Emily Toth Martin, whose influenza surveillance lab at U-M is helping track COVID-19 activity in Michigan both for the state and for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health must be able to react quickly to reports of symptoms in workplaces, for example, even as test results are pending, she said.

“Any chance we have to buy time” is crucial, she said.

Another key to reopening the state both economically and socially will in large part rest on personal responsibility, Chopra at the DMC said. For example, playing tennis in the open air is safer than cramming into a crowded bar.

Sarah Lyon-Callo, state epidemiologist, credits aggressive state measures, including the shelter-in-place executive order, for the continued downturn in cases, but she noted that the virus remains in the state.

As of Tuesday, 364 patients who had tested positive with COVID remained hospitalized. Eighteen more deaths were reported, too.

The goal, she said, “is to keep the numbers tamped down until there’s a vaccine … We have to maintain vigilance. We have to maintain discipline for this to continue to work.”


Bridge writers Mike Wilkinson and Jonathan Oosting contributed to this report

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Comments

Rose
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 8:36am

To all of you who excoriated the Governor, maybe now you will understand why she did what she did - to keep all of us as safe as possible (including those who hung her in effigy and threatened her life) . Look at this chart from Fox News. Just 2 states "are on track to contain "COVID:

https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/michigan-in-green-and-on-track-to-conta...

That being said the rest is up to all Michiganders. Everyone must wear masks and social distance to keep ALL of us safe. What affects one person affects all of us. Masks are a health issue, not a political issue. Please don't let all the hard work that has been done go to waste by not wearing masks and not social distancing . PLEASE.

Steve Williams
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 1:49pm

Rose, Governor Whitmer cannot claim to have kept us safe. Michigan has, so far, had 600 COVID-19 deaths per million people. More than Italy, Spain, France or Sweden. In fact the only major country with a higher rate of death is Belgium. Second worst is a record to be proud of. Source https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Steve Williams
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 7:48pm

Rose, I don't think you understand that only the UK and Belgium exceed Michigan in deaths per million population of substantial countries, according to worldometers.info, and the UK by only a small margin . Whitmer did nothing that you could point to as successful. Unless the goal is to have as many people perish during the onset of the pandemic.

George Hagenauer
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 8:59am

I have been tracking a dozen states as to Covid19 from almost the beginning we were within the top 5 we have dropped to 9 with a number of southern states rising quickly to surpass us. We may be below the top 10 soon. The headache now is how to maintain a low infection rate. Being on a peninsula like Korea makes that a little easier but borders are fluid and if Ohio is doing worse than we are? How do we cut down on movement with Ohio or other states especially if air travel picks up?

Steve Williams
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 9:45am

So Michigan with just over 600 COVID-19 deaths per million and New York with nearly 1600 deaths per million are doing great because new cases and deaths are declining. While Alabama, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and California are seeing increases, but their deaths per million range from about 90 to 160 per million. Michigan and New York are 4 to 20 times higher than those states. At this point I would say it looks like if you quickly kill off the most vulnerable, later you can crow about declining new cases. Sources given are CNN and State of Michigan. This is not journalism. This is regurgitating tripe being fed by those with a political axe to grind. I can understand why Bridge gives the authors the title "writers" and not thinkers.

middle of the mit
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 7:49pm

So what is your solution?

Open it up and the vulnerable die?

Or is it what The President said: "Testing is good.....but if we tested less....we would have less cases"?

Hey! If you don't test for COVID-19, they just died suddenly.

Are you seeing that in your obituaries?

zooman
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 11:08am

One of the main reasons for Michigan's success is Governor Whitmer's willingness to be guided by data and science. There is a lesson to be learned from states that started opening before their numbers. Michigan's continued success now depends on all of us to accept the fact that COVID is still a serious threat. Wearing masks and maintaining social distance are essential if we want to keep the positive momentum we now have.

Revere
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 10:34pm

Zooman,
There is no science behind her decisions. If there were, she wouldn't have heavily criticized the protests against her and then subsequently participated in protests against white cops while also not "social distancing".
She cares for nothing but her political career. Science has nothing to do with anything "whitmer".

mike
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 8:49pm

Michiganders, keep up the good work!

Revere
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 9:22pm

I will assume that Bridge will censor my commend simply because it contains facts which do not follow the "narrative":
-When people were protesting the shutdown at the capitol, and also "social distancing", whitmer condemned it saying it was going to cause the shutdown to last longer.
-When people were protesting against white people in the "black lives matter" demonstrations, whitmer participated, and said nothing.
Does this make sense to you?
It shouldn't.
The shutdown had nothing to do with the "curve".
We now know that coronavirus was circulating in China since August. Meaning it was in the Michigan since shortly after that - August or early September due to the close connections between the auto industry and china.
Feel hoodwinked yet?