Michigan deaths near 2,500 as COVID cases hit 32,000

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan reported Monday that 77 additional people died in connection with the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the state's total to 2,468 deaths. 

Monday's death tally was the lowest in over two weeks when 77 deaths were reported on April 5.

The state also confirmed 576 new cases of COVID-19, bringing its cumulative total cases to 32,000 but reflecting a continued slowing of the infection rate.

The new case figure was the lowest increase reported in Michigan since late March and 47 fewer than the new cases reported Sunday when the state reached 31,424 COVID-19 cases and 2,391 deaths. 

Drive-thru coronavirus testing at 1200 N. Telegraph, by appointment, in Pontiac, Michigan on April 16, 2020.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday attributed the slowing rate of infection to the "vast" majority of Michigan businesses and people heeding her stay-home order and other executive actions in response to the virus.

"That's why we see our curve flattening. That's why we see our hospitalizations flattening. Our death toll is still very high," Whitmer told a press conference.

"We are the 10th largest state in the nation, and we've got the third-highest death toll. That tells you we've got a uniquely tough problem that we are confronting."

Michigan ranks sixth in the nation for its number of positive COVID cases and third for deaths, behind hard-hit New York and New Jersey, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. 

MORE: 5-year-old with rare complication becomes first Michigan child to die of COVID-19

The number of patients hospitalized statewide with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 has declined 15% from an unspecified high point 10 days ago to 4,671 patients hospitalized as of Sunday, Whitmer said. 

Testing is on the rise with about 6,000 test results on Thursday and about 4,300 results on Friday, the most recent data available, with the number of positive results falling, she noted.

Whitmer said the state can do as many as 11,300 tests a day but is testing about half that number because of a shortage of test swabs and reagent — the component that indicates whether the virus that causes COVID-19 is present in a test sample.

"Those supplies are in demand globally, and we are competing to get them and working incredibly hard so we can ramp up to that 11,300 capacity and hopefully beyond," she said. 

Michigan also reported over the weekend a significant bump in the number of patients who have recovered from the virus. The state said there have been 3,237 COVID-19 recoveries through Thursday, up from 433 on the same day last week.

People are considered recovered if they were confirmed to have the virus and survived 30 days from the onset of the illness. The state is updating the recovery number once a week.

"It's a really good thing that we're seeing more and more people recover," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive.

"But the higher recovery rate seems to be associated with the higher infection rate."

She said Michigan knows of 243 "congregate" facilities such as nursing homes that have outbreaks of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19

"That is very concerning," Khaldun said. 

The state will start requiring every skilled nursing facility to report COVID-19 cases to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and next week expects to add more reporting requirements for all long-term care facilities, she said. 

New teams of local health department staff, epidemiologists and clinicians will begin working closely with these facilities to ensure they are following best infection-prevention protocols and testing residents appropriately for COVID-19, Khaldun said. 

The state will also organize regional "hubs" with the infrastructure and protective gear for staff in place to care for nursing home residents with COVID-19 who don't need to be hospitalized but whose nursing facilities are "unable to safely care" for them, she said. 

The Metro Detroit counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb make up about 82% of the deaths in Michigan, with 2,030 people having died in southeast Michigan as of Monday.

About 77% of the state’s COVID-19 cases have been reported in the three Metro Detroit counties, but Monday's increase in new cases (354) was the lowest for southeast Michigan since April 12 — a dip that at the time was attributed in part to the holiday Easter/Passover weekend. 

The proportion of cases in Metro Detroit has gradually been decreasing as more cases are reported outside the region. That includes rural areas of the lower peninsula and Upper Peninsula that don't have as much hospital capacity as more populous parts of the state, Khaldun said Monday.

About 45% of those infected in Michigan are men, and 54% are women, while 56% of those who have died are men and 44% are women. About 85% of the deceased are age 60 or older. 

Those who have died have ranged in age from 5 to 107, with an average age of about 74 years.

Until recently, the youngest person in Michigan to die in connection with COVID-19 was 20 years old.

But 5-year-old Skylar Herbert died Sunday following two weeks on a ventilator after developing a rare form of meningitis and brain swelling in connection to her coronavirus infection.