While COVID cases, deaths, hospitalizations rise, state sticks with vaccination strategy, not new restrictions

Total case data for St. Joseph County (Michigan.gov, screenshot)

By Allison Donahue, Michigan Advance

Despite Michigan’s COVID case rate, mortality rate and hospitalizations increasing in every region of the state, state health officials remain hesitant to say whether business closures or stricter restrictions are on the horizon.

Why? As vaccines become more accessible and are now available to every Michigander over the age 16, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) say they are hoping to see an end to this spring surge Michigan is currently experiencing. 

“Our focus right now continues on being making sure that we are getting as many people vaccinated as possible,” state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo said Wednesday during a press briefing when asked about potentially implementing new restrictions or closures. 

Lyon-Callo said that she is “very optimistic for the summer.”

“I think there are a lot of different techniques that we’re using to get people vaccinated and reduce transmission, and I’m anticipating that we will not be looking this way in the summer,” she said.

After getting her first COVID vaccination Tuesday in Detroit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reiterated that her administration is not planning new restrictions, saying the surge in cases is “not a policy problem.”

However, some health experts, like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who helped draw attention to the Flint water crisis, are urging new restrictions.

“Michigan: we need a vaccination SURGE and a two week PAUSE in everything else,” she tweeted on Wednesday morning.”

Wednesday’s DHHS COVID-19 data presentation was the first update with reporters since March 16.

The COVID-19 spread in Michigan is reaching dangerously high metrics. Over the last seven days, Michigan has the highest number of cases per-capita and the highest case rate in the country. Case rates have increased by 375% since the state’s low in mid-February. 

As of Tuesday, Michigan has 707,463 COVID-19 cases and 16,297 deaths. 

During the week of March 26 to April 1, 16 counties had positivity rates over 20%: Otsego, Kalkaska, Crawford, Oscoda, Alcona, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Iosco, Oceana, Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, Lapeer, Saint Clair and Macomb.

Additionally, 63 of the state’s 83 counties saw double-digit positivity increase in the last week.

The state is also reporting the highest inpatient bed utilization and the highest adult Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed utilization in the country, and trends for COVID hospitalizations have been increasing for four weeks.

Deaths from COVID-19 have also increased since the March 9 low, and the death rate is 2.4 deaths per million residents.

The one optimistic piece of data shared Wednesday was that almost 37% of Michigan’s population over 16 has at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. About 23% of the population is fully vaccinated.

However, as Michigan is ramping up vaccination efforts, the three COVID-19 variants are spreading across the state and are more difficult to trace.

There are more than 1,817 people confirmed to be infected with the B.1.1.7 variants, seven cases of the B.1.351 variant and two cases of the P. 1 variant. 

“We know that there are more cases than we are able to identify based on the sample size that we have,” Lyon-Callo said. 

During the March COVID-19 data presentation, the 10 to 19 age group was experiencing the highest case rates. While this age group is still seeing record high case rates, the 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 age groups are now seeing the highest increase in case rates, officials said 

Case rates for children up to age 10 are also experiencing record high case rates, with an average of about 239 daily cases.

Many of the outbreaks in school-aged children are being traced back to sports, with 376 cases linked to basketball, 256 cases linked to hockey and 190 cases linked to wrestling. 

Lyon-Callo said that the state is addressing the outbreak in schools by “encouraging masks to be worn during play” and by training all schools in the state to be able to conduct testing.

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