UM says COVID-19 curve 'significantly flattening,' but Whitmer says 'not out of woods'

The University of Michigan hospital system has postponed the opening of its field hospital because the curve of coronavirus cases “is significantly flattening.”

But the verdict is out on whether that flattening is a blip or a sustained downward trend in Michigan. There is also a hung jury among state and national officials on how to interpret the numbers. 

President Donald Trump maintained Friday the COVID-19 numbers were "stabilizing" in hardest-hit Detroit and New Orleans, but Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned the state is "not out of the woods yet."

“Nobody is immune to this virus,” Whitmer said Friday on Twitter. “It doesn’t discriminate based on county lines, partisan lines, age, or socioeconomic status. One person who carries it can infect 40 people, who then can infect thousands more.”

The comment came a day after Whitmer extended and tightened the state's stay-home order through April 30, noting Michigan had the third-highest numbers of coronavirus cases in the nation "and we're still on the upswing."

In a press briefing Friday, Trump said his administration believes the situation in Detroit and New Orleans was "stabilizing."

"Louisiana and state of Michigan is doing really much better than we thought," he said. 

Michigan had its largest 24-hour increase in deaths from Thursday to Friday, with a total of 205 deaths to boost the statewide total to 1,281. 

The state's coronavirus case numbers increased at a greater rate Friday than Thursday, but it was still the second-lowest 24-hour increase since March 31. In total, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan hit 22,783 as of Friday afternoon.

But several organizations across the state see signs of a slowing growth rate in the state's recent numbers and modeling.

“It appears from current COVID-19 cases and modeling that the curve is significantly flattening,” said Mary Masson, a spokeswoman for Michigan Medicine, UM's health system. “We are in communication with state officials to coordinate and determine future need" for a field hospital, but there are no immediate plans to open.

Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine announced in late March that it would open a field hospital at the indoor track at the South Athletics Facility on State Street to handle overflow from its 1,000-bed capacity hospital system. The site was supposed to open Friday, but now those plans are on hold, said Masson.

The UM announcement came the same day a 1,000-bed field hospital at TCF Center in Detroit welcomed its first 25 coronavirus patients who don't have severe symptoms. The state plans to begin retrofitting a second field hospital Saturday at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. 

There are no plans to pause construction in Novi in light of UM's announcement, a state spokeswoman said. 

Whitmer relied, in part, on UM modeling when she announced Thursday that she would extend and tighten controversial restrictions on non-essential travel and work through April 30. She did not rely on the latest federal guidance on restrictions as 20 other states, including Ohio and Indiana, have — rejecting as "critical infrastructure workers" landscapers, clergy and housing construction workers.

The governor referenced the UM study in a slide show during her broadcast address. It was not immediately clear whether the study she referenced was the same one Masson said showed "significant flattening." 

The state did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The slide displayed Thursday showed state coronavirus cases peaking in late April if social distancing ended Monday as planned. The peak moved to mid-June to late June if social distancing measures were extended to May 3 because the growth of cases would slow, alleviating pressure on hospitals, and hit the apex six to eight weeks later. 

According to a study from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Michigan hit peak hospital resource use Tuesday and hit peak deaths on Thursday. 

Other scenarios referenced by the governor from Covid Act Now predict the state will hit peak coronavirus cases in June. 

Washtenaw County, home to UM, has 659 confirmed cases and 15 deaths, but Michigan Medicine has been taking patients from other Metro Detroit hospitals overwhelmed by demand.

Roughly 80% of the state's cases are concentrated in the Metro Detroit counties of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne.

In addition to some decreases in daily statewide tallies, Detroit's biggest hospital systems also are reporting decreased numbers of COVID-19 patients at their hospitals. 

Southfield-based Beaumont Health reported 1,101 confirmed coronavirus cases Tuesday but was down to 1,010 by Friday. 

Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System reported 752 confirmed coronavirus cases Tuesday but had declined to 696 by Friday. 

A Henry Ford Health official said Thursday the system has seen "glimmers of hope" in its battle against the pandemic. Henry Ford Medical Group CEO Dr. Steven Kalkanis said the hospital system is "discharging patients to home more than those who show up to the emergency rooms."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Friday the city is "bending the curve."

"There is no doubt the people in this city and the masks and the separation are doing it," Duggan said. "But it's still a very dangerous time for Detroiters. We're seeing progress, but we're not letting up."

Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun urged the same caution during a Thursday press conference.

“We are seeing some very early data that suggests the growth rate for positive cases may be slowing,” Khaldun said. “But there’s still not enough testing happening across our state.”

Twitter: @DNBethLeB