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Some caution over rising Michigan COVID cases and positive tests

Matt Vogel sorts through test samples
Matt Vogel sorts through test samples as he inventories them in preparation for testing procedures at Sparrow Laboratories in Lansing where they are testing samples for Covid-19 in July, 2020. (Bridge file photo by Dale Young)

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COVID cases rose again Friday in Michigan, as did positive test rates — continuing a gradual upward trend that may portend a COVID comeback in the coming months.

Overall, coronavirus cases have reached their highest point in six weeks, with the state Friday reporting 1,295 new cases over the past three days, or roughly 432 cases a day. That brings the seven-day average of cases to 332, up from 273 on Tuesday.

That’s the highest seven-day average since June 8, when it was 354 per day.

 

The increase comes as cases are rising nationwide with the help of a new, more contagious Delta variant, though case numbers are still far below peaks in the pandemic. On April 13, Michigan had a staggering high of 7,014 cases during its third COVID surge — the same month that more than 17 percent of tests came back positive on several occasions.

Like last summer, overall cases remain low, noted Nick Derusha, president of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, which represents the state’s local health departments.

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In June last year, cases had slipped to below 300 cases a day for much of the month, but they rose again as students returned to school in August and September and cooler weather forced gatherings back inside. And now, after the last of the statewide pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the Delta variant is again fueling spread worldwide.

By Friday, genetic sequencing from a sample of positive tests confirmed 81 cases of the Delta variant in Michigan — undoubtedly an undercount since most cases are not sequenced. Twenty-one of the cases were confirmed in metro Detroit — in Oakland County (7), Wayne County (11), and Macomb (3.) Ten more were confirmed in Branch County, along Michigan’s southern edge, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“I wouldn't say it's time to panic yet, but it's still time to be cautious. The pandemic is still with us,” Derusha said.

Dr. Matthew Sims, who oversees infectious disease research at Beaumont Health, echoed Derusha’s words: The Delta variant is a particular concern.

Dr. Matt Sims
Vaccines are the best way to curb any upward COVID trend, said Dr. Matt Sims, an infectious disease expert at Beaumont Health. (Courtesy photo)

It’s believed to be more transmissible than the earliest version of the coronavirus that slammed into Michigan in March, 2020 — more so, too, than other variants, he said.

And there’s some anecdotal evidence that it can pass even in the briefest interactions, said Sims, who watches the data regularly, too, and also noted “the tiny increase” in cases.

“It’s nothing I’d worry about yet, but if it keeps going, that could be an indication” of another surge, he said. “I just wish more people were getting vaccinated.”

 “I wouldn't say it's time to panic yet, but it's still time to be cautious.” -- Nick Derusha, president, Michigan Association for Local Public Health

As of Friday, 57.7 percent of Michiganders 12 and older had a first dose of a vaccine, well below the 66.1 percent nationally. Among those 16 and older, the vaccine rates are slightly better in Michigan — 59.4 percent have had their first dose. Still, that’s far short of the 70 percent goal set last year to possibly achieve herd immunity.

Perhaps most worrisome, the percentage of COVID tests that came back positive across the state 4.7 percent Thursday. COVID test results are an indicator of community spread, and Michigan has set a goal of keeping positive results to 3 percent or below.

Positive test results had remained at 2 percent or below in the last three weeks of June and the first week of July. But on July 12, the rate hit 2.4 percent and has remained at that percent or higher for all but one day since then.

Michigan also reported Friday 21 deaths linked to COVID-19 over the past three days, including seven earlier deaths that were linked through a review of death records.

Among the good news is this: Hospitalization rates in general have remained relatively steady.

“That’s the (data point) that tells you how close your health system is to being overwhelmed,” said Sims of Beaumont.

Hospital patient levels, compared to the spring when hospitals were caring for 4,422 patients with suspected or confirmed COVID, “are still pretty low, and that’s good,” he said. 

Just 317 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 were in Michigan’s hospitals as of Friday.

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