Michigan's coronavirus death toll jumps to over 5,800 with revised count; 21 new confirmed deaths

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

For the first time, Michigan has published a count of 239 probable coronavirus deaths — the number of people who never tested positive for COVID-19 but were suspected to have died from the virus.    

The figure, when combined with the 5,616 confirmed COVID deaths through Friday, bumped the state's death toll from the novel coronavirus 4% higher than previously thought — to 5,855 total when including the presumptive deaths. 

Public health experts have said the combined total, provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, is a truer representation of the virus's toll

Beaumont medical technologist Michael Diskin runs a COVID-19 test specimen. Royal Oak-based Beaumont Health has started processing a limited number of COVID-19 tests in its own laboratory. On-site processing allows doctors to have results in hours instead of days.

That is in part because virus testing has been limited, and the official tally had so far only counted deaths where the individual had tested positive for COVID-19.

The state also released for the first time a count of 5,014 probable cases of COVID-19. Those presumptive cases increased the state's total known cases by nearly 9% to 63,539 when added to the 58,525 cases confirmed by diagnostic testing through Friday. 

Officials also reported Friday that there had been 21 coronavirus deaths and 284 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the previous 24 hours. 

“We are continuing to improve the information we are providing as our goal is to share timely and accurate data during this pandemic,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive, said in a statement.

Probable cases include individuals without a COVID-positive diagnostic lab test who were presumed to be infected due to their symptoms and an epidemiological link, according to the state health department. 

Probable deaths are those whose death certificate listed COVID-19 disease as a cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death.

Examples include sudden deaths at home attributed to COVID, deaths at the hospital before the individual could test positive, and patients who falsely tested negative but who were clinically considered a COVID case, experts said. 

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the probable cases and deaths disclosed Friday were centered in Metro Detroit, which has experienced 61% of confirmed cases and 77% of confirmed deaths. 

Detroit, Michigan's largest city, had been a national hot spot for COVID-19 early in the pandemic and has led all Michigan communities in cases and deaths.

Detroit led the tally of presumptive deaths with 84. The city had another 162 probable cases of COVID-19 in contrast to 11,100 confirmed cases and nearly 1,400 confirmed deaths. 

Oakland County had the highest number of probable cases, with 2,402, compared with over 8,400 confirmed cases. The county reported 41 probable deaths in addition to 1,007 confirmed deaths. 

Michigan’s local health departments have been reporting both confirmed and probable COVID cases and deaths to the state for weeks.

Each local health department received guidance, along with recommendations to evaluate cases based on the national standard defined by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists in April, state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin has said. 

Additional information is necessary to define a probable death, requiring a report and then a public health investigation, so establishing this class of deaths takes longer, she said. Most would be found during contact monitoring of people potentially exposed to infection, Sutfin added.

Probable cases "provides a more complete picture about how COVID-19 has impacted the state," she said recently.