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Michigan hits No. 5 in nation for COVID-19 deaths, No. 6 for cases, ICU patients

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

State health officials painted a grim picture of Michigan's COVID-19 crisis Wednesday during a media briefing by the state's top epidemiologist.

The state has the sixth highest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation and the fifth highest number of deaths, said Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the Bureau of Epidemiology at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

The state's average daily case rates are approaching those experienced during last spring's surge in southeast Michigan and are continuing to increase at a fast pace, she said. Michigan reported 7,458 new cases on Tuesday and 79 more deaths. 

Chief Medical Executive and MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun speaks about a new emergency order today that enacts a three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities.

"Michigan has had a rapid rise in hospitalizations and cases, and we're at 75% of our spring peak right now," Lyon-Callo said. "The positivity is increasing in all areas.

"Testing is increasing as well, but it's really not keeping up with positivity or case rates."

Cases are rising across the Midwest and rest of the country, Lyon-Callo noted, and Wisconsin has already exceeded numbers from last spring's peak.  Michigan is testing about 53,000 people daily for COVID-19, with about 12.5% of tests coming back positive, she said. 

Michigan's COVID-19 hospitalization rate is 10th highest in the country, with the sixth highest number of patients in intensive care. About 3,320 people were hospitalized statewide as of Tuesday, compared with 999 COVID inpatients a month on Oct. 13, according to state data.

The exponential spread of the disease has stressed the state's ability to test for the virus, Lyon-Callo said.  The daily number of tests has increased 89% since Oct 1 but positivity has increased more 290% during the same time. Michigan's average turnaround time for test results is about 2.7 days. 

"We need to be testing more," Lyon-Callo said. "Positivity is an early indicator that our number of cases is going to increase.

"In the last week more than 47,000 cases reporting to us," she added, noting that cases are rising among all age groups but highest among people ages 30 to 49 years old.

Lyon-Callo noted that  nearly 300 people died from virus the week of Nov. 7 through Nov. 13 alone. 

"The number of deaths each day is going to continue to climb and currently is more than four times the number as in early October," she said.

The exponential increase in cases has strained the state's capacity to do contact tracing, which is needed to let people know when they've been exposed so they can quarantine and not infect others. About 980 outbreaks are currently under investigation in the state, according to Lyon-Callo. 

Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said the state is working hard to expand its capacity to test for the coronavirus, and has hired more people to conduct contract tracing and help local health department with case investigations. 

Khaldun warned that even if a vaccine is approved soon by the federal Food and Drug Administration, it won't be available to most people any time soon. Under guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first doses will go to front-line health care providers and other essential workers. 

"It will be well into 2021 before that vaccine is widely available and available to the general population," Khaldun said.  

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced wide-ranging new restrictions Sunday night to combat what she described as the "worst moment" yet in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ordered a temporary pause on in-person learning for high schools and colleges, suspension of in-person dining at restaurants and bars, and the closure of bowling alleys, movie theaters and casinos.

Under the order, which goes into effect Wednesday and runs through Dec. 8, indoor residential gatherings will be limited to two households at any one time.

Child care centers, hair salons, retail shops and preschool through eighth-grade schools will still be allowed to operate. Parks and outdoor recreation areas will continue to be open, and gatherings of up to 25 people can take place at funerals.

Restaurants can offer take-out and outdoor dining, while gyms and pools can be open for individual exercise.

kbouffard@detroitnews.com