As Michigan deaths reach 540, White House-cited modeling predicts peak next week

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

On the same day Michigan hit a milestone 500 coronavirus-related deaths and 14,000 cases, the White House said it projected Wayne and Oakland counties would hit peak caseloads next weekend.

Those counties will reach highs in caseloads in the next six to seven days alongside "hot spots" in New York and Louisiana, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx estimated during a White House press briefing Saturday.

In those hot spots — where mitigation measures are struggling to stem a surge in infections and deaths — the peak will precede a peak in deaths by several days, Birx said.

Michigan reported an additional 61 coronavirus deaths and 1,481 more confirmed cases as of Saturday afternoon. 

The new casualties bring the number of deaths statewide to 540 and the number of COVID-19 cases to 14,225, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

"All of those counties — Wayne and Oakland — they are all on the upside of their curve of mortality," said Birx, citing modeling from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation out of the University of Washington. "They're predicting — in those three hot spots — all of them hitting together in the six to seven days."

The predictions about Michigan's peak coronavirus case load conflict with a timeline Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cited Thursday, predicting the state would hit its "apex" by the end of April or early May. 

Even before Saturday's numbers had been added, Michigan had moved ahead of California to third among all U.S. states for the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to tracking by the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.  Michigan was behind only New York and New Jersey.

The study cited by Birx estimated the state will reach peak coronavirus resource usage Thursday and a peak daily death toll of 173 on April 11. The study is updated daily based on state data from the previous day and is meant to be used as a planning tool for hospitals, the IHME website said.

Whitmer's administration, on the other hand, has based its estimates on preliminary modeling out of the University of Michigan, early modeling from Covid Act Now and assumptions in an academic paper out of Imperial College, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Duane Newton works on developing a test for the coronavirus in the microbiology laboratory at the University of Michigan. Newton is director of the clinical microbiology laboratory in the Department of Pathology at Michigan Medicine, the UM health system. March 2020

Just over 80% of the confirmed cases in Michigan are in the southeast Michigan counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb, cementing the area as a "hot spot" for the virus. A little more than 87% of the deaths are located in those counties.

As of Saturday, a total of 40,581 specimens had been tested at commercial, hospital and public health laboratories, according to the state. The number of specimens tested does not reflect the number of people tested since some people had to be tested more than once. 

The average age of those who had passed away from the virus is 71.4 years age, but the ages of the deceased ranged from 20 to 107 years old, according to state data. 

About 50% of those infected are men and 46% women, with the gender of 4% of the cases unknown. Of those who have died in Michigan, 61% were men and 39% were women.

About 34% of those testing positive for coronavirus are black and 24% Caucasian; for another 36%, race was unknown. 

Of the deceased, about 40% were black and 29% Caucasian. Race was unknown for about 26% of those who died, according to state data. 

The state put out calls for help to nurses and doctors throughout the state to help staff at-capacity hospitals and planned field hospitals throughout the state. 

As of Saturday, Henry Ford Health System has 679 patients admitted to multiple hospitals with the coronavirus, the majority at its Detroit campus.

The health care system said 4,788 patients have tested negative, 3,018 have tested positive.

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.