MDHHS: Slight improvements or plateaus in COVID-19 trends

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Watch a replay of MDHHS COVID-19 data analysis above.

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — While Michigan is still seeing high numbers of coronavirus cases and related deaths, the state public health officials are expressing “cautious optimism” about positive trends in some of the metrics.

As of Saturday, Michigan ranked seventh in the nation in highest number of cases, fourth in highest number of deaths, 25th in case rates and eighth in death rates over the week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control COVID Data Tracker.

Each of those rankings were improvements over the previous week, with Michigan notably moving down five spots in case rates and two spots in death rates.

During a Wednesday briefing held via Zoom, MDHHS’s top epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo broke down the latest trends including new cases, outbreaks, hospitalizations, deaths and testing, many of which are seeing slight improvements or statistical plateaus.

FEWER THAN 5,000 NEW CASES ANNOUNCED

Also Wednesday, MDHHS announced 4,905 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed and 75 more related deaths recorded. In all, the virus has now infected 415,200 people in Michigan since the start of the outbreak in March and been linked to 10,213 deaths.

On Tuesday, labs in Michigan tested 46,690 samples for the virus and 5,582 were positive, a rate of 11.96%.

The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.

Kent County confirmed 398 more cases for a total of 35,888 since the start of the outbreak and recorded two more deaths for a total of 415.

Several other West Michigan counties also saw additional deaths:

  • Barry County: One more death for 17 total; 2,399 total confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak.
  • Branch County: One more death for 44 total; 2,403 total cases.
  • Calhoun County: Two more deaths for 135 total; 6,085 total cases.
  • Ionia County: One more death for 31 total; 2,937 total cases.
  • Montcalm County: One more death for 36 total; 2,302 total cases.
  • Ottawa County: Three more deaths for 180 total; 15,125 total cases.
  • Van Buren County: One more death for 54 total; 3,256 total cases.

Wayne County, which has been hit hardest by the virus, saw eight more deaths for a total of 3,181 and confirmed 655 more cases for a total of 68,581 since the start of the outbreak. Neighboring Oakland County has had 46,696 total cases (465 more than the previous day) and 1,380 deaths (three more). Macomb County has had 41,462 cases (520 more) and 1,304 deaths (six more).

CASE AND DEATH RATES

Statewide, all eight regions of the state were seeing a decline in the rate of new cases per million people per day as of Nov. 30 and the number of cases announced each day has been improving slightly. However, Michigan is still seeing five times more cases each day than in early October.

People ages 30-49 still make up the largest percentage of new cases, followed by people ages 50-59, then those over 70 and finally those 29 or younger.

Michigan is also seeing five times more deaths each day than in early October, but Lyon-Callo noted the increasing rate of deaths has slowed. She explained deaths are a lagging indicator — they increase after case rates and hospitalizations and also decline after those two metrics.

However, public health officials say the effects of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings have not yet been seen. Lyon-Callo said there is also concern there could be a spike after Christmas. Public health officials have urged people not to travel or gather for the December holidays.

Lyon-Callo also noted that as of Nov. 29, the number of people staying home had remained about the same as around Thanksgiving, whereas more people had been staying home before the holiday. Still, many more people are staying home now than during the summer, when the virus was spreading slower.

HOSPITALIZATIONS

Lyon-Callo also said that COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU utilization are generally plateauing or decreasing. Six of Michigan’s eight health regions, including West and Southwest Michigan, saw decreases since last week.

Statewide, 3,899 hospitalized adults were suspected or confirmed to have the virus as of Wednesday, a decline of 165 from the previous day. The statewide capacity average is 74%, about 90% of the spring peak. Nearly 19% of all people hospitalized are COVID-19 patients and in four regions, about 30% of those in intensive care have the disease.

For many hospitals in West Michigan, bed capacity is higher than 75%. In Kent County, Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital has 82% of its beds full and Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital is at 78%. Metro Health has 68% of beds full and Mercy Health St Mary’s is the highest at 97%.

In Kalamazoo County, Ascension Borgess is at 83% capacity and Bronson Methodist Hospital is at 87%. Bronson Battle Creek is at 94% capacity.

Near the lakeshore, Mercy Health Mercy Hospital in Muskegon is at 85% of beds full and Holland Hospital is at 63%.

—News 8’s Dana Whyte contributed to this report.

TESTING AND TRACKING

Fewer people have been seeking tests since around the Thanksgiving holiday, Lyon-Callo pointed out, though that rate seems to be beginning to rebound. Several regions are still seeing increasing test positivity rates. Statewide, the average positivity rate is above 14%; Lyon-Callo said we may be in an “undulating plateau” in terms of that rate.

Public health officials look for a testing positivity rate below 3% to show the spread of the virus is controlled.

Lyon-Callo urged everyone to get tested, noting officials aim for a high number of tests and low positivity rate. As the number of tests drops, the positivity rate generally grows. As the number of tests grows, the positivity rate generally drops. When the positivity rate is rising even as more tests are being run, that demonstrates the virus is spreading more quickly.

Michigan is running more tests each day than all but five other states and testing about 4% of its population each week. You can find a testing site near you at Michigan.gov/coronavirustest. Results are turned around, on average, in about three days.

Health departments are starting to get a better handle on contact tracing and are now able to investigate a higher number and percentage of cases.

Officials have been struggling to cope with contact tracing simply because there are so many cases. Some counties are utilizing the internet to start investigations and the state has rolled out the free MI COVID Alert app that helps alert people if they may have been exposed to the virus. Lyon-Callo said 81 people have been notified of exposure through that app since Nov. 21.

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