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Nearly a half-million Michigan residents had COVID-19 in 2020, state reports

Sarah Rahal and Karen Bouffard

Nearly a half-million Michigan residents tested positive for COVID-19 during 2020, according to the latest numbers reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  

Michigan health officials confirmed 8,983 new cases of the coronavirus for the three-day period that included New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and Saturday. A third of that number attributed to Thursday, the last day of the year, would bring Michigan's total since March to 491,137 cases. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was a public health crisis unlike any other Michigan has experienced in a century," state health officials said in a statement to The Detroit News on Sunday. "Nearly 500,000 Michigan residents tested positive for COVID-19, and the state lost more than 12,000 people to the virus."

The department also reported 265 deaths for the three days, bringing the total to 12,598 deaths in Michigan since the start of the pandemic last spring. The deaths reported Saturday included 21 that were identified through a vital records review. 

The total number of cases and deaths for 2020 will not be released by health officials for several weeks, but a rough estimate can be found by dividing the number for the three-day period by three, and assign one-third of the cases to each of the three calendar days, said MDHHS spokesman Bob Wheaton. 

"It will be a couple of weeks into the new year before that number will reflect all of the cases," Wheaton said Sunday. 

Through Wednesday, Michigan recorded 488,144 coronavirus cases, beginning on March 10, when the first case was confirmed in the state, according to the state's numbers. Combined with a third of the cases reported Saturday, or 2,994 cases for Thursday, Michigan totaled about 491,137 cases in 2020 — almost half a million people.

With 2,994 cases each day on Friday and Saturday, Michigan had 5,988 new cases reported for the first two days of 2021. 

The state recorded 19,858 cases last week. The count represents new referrals of confirmed cases since Wednesday.

The state also recorded 569 deaths last week, and 568 the previous week — down from 799 deaths reported the week before following a record of 808 deaths in mid-December.  

Deaths for the month of December totaled 2,612, second only to the month of April when 3,745 people died of COVID-19 in Michigan. 

The December tally likely will rise in the coming weeks as officials review more deaths and add them to the count.

Michigan recorded 18,417 new cases the week before New Year's Day, with an average of 2,447 new confirmed cases per day. That's compared to 30,587 cases two weeks ago, but it's too early to tell if the downward trend will continue, health officials say.

During the past two weeks of vaccine distribution, more than 71,000 people in the state have received inoculations and nearly 500 clinics were scheduled for distribution in the coming weeks, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday had urged residents not to travel and to celebrate the New Year's Day holiday responsibly.

In their statement to The News late Sunday, Michigan health officials said the availability of vaccines likely will bring better outcomes in 2021, but people shouldn't let down their guard against the virus. 

"The vaccine means better times are ahead in 2021," health officials said in Sunday's statement. 

"However, because it will take time to get people vaccinated, we still need Michiganders to do what they’ve been doing to keep everyone as safe as possible — wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands frequently and avoid social gatherings." 

'Lowering their guard'

Wayne County Health Department Dr. Mouhanad Hammami said the majority of the county's 1,740 total deaths linked to the coronavirus are seniors older than 65 who had underlying health conditions. The deaths lagged who may have contracted it before December, he said.

"That coincided with the relaxation we saw in early June when people started lowering their guard," he said. "We are not seeing any increase in youth that are dying."

Hammami touted the restrictions set by the state health department saying it has shown "that we are able to manage the disease and it's not as severe in the population that are getting infected because we are seeing lower numbers in the elderly versus the youth."

Although some are experiencing "COVID fatigue," Hammami said, residents should remain as vigilant as if it were the peak of the pandemic. Hammami said measures such as washing hands and wearing masks remain relevant.

"We now have a glimpse of hope with the new vaccine," he said. "People are questioning if they should take it or not, but that is the first line of defense in battling this pandemic."

During the week of Dec. 19, Michigan dropped from the 13th highest number of cases to the 15th highest in the nation. The state continues to rank as the fifth highest for the number of deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control's COVID data tracker.

Michigan ranks 24th in the nation for most hospitalizations and ninth for most patients in intensive care units, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

The 12-county Saginaw region in December reported the most COVID-19 deaths per population of the state's eight economic recovery regions. The region reported 373 deaths in December, about 0.6 deaths for each 100,000 residents.

Active cases remain most prevalent in Wayne County, with 56,792 cases and additional 27,109 cases in Detroit. Oakland County has 60,147 cases, and Macomb has 48,885.

The state's case tracker also noted Genesee, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties have high case rates.

Vaccines rolled out in phases

The vaccines will be rolled out in phases. The first priorities for vaccination in Michigan have been front-line healthcare workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities. 

Vaccine distribution began Monday for skilled nursing home residents and staff. The state health department has also partnered with Walgreen and CVS Pharmacies to widely distribute the virus when it's available, Whitmer said.

Khaldun said the general public should prepare to receive the vaccine by late spring.

"If we get more vaccines, we are going to be getting it into people's arms as quickly as we can," Khaldun said. "We do expect our case numbers and deaths to come down as the vaccine is distributed to the most vulnerable, those in healthcare facilities."

Whitmer has extended indoor dining restrictions through Jan. 15 while allowing reopening of casinos, bowling alleys and stadiums, and permitting in-person learning at Michigan high schools as soon as Monday with restrictions. Capacity will be capped at 100 people for businesses, food and drink concessions must remain closed and social distancing must be observed.

On Tuesday, Whitmer signed a $106 million supplemental COVID-19 relief bill, but her line-item vetoes slashed more than three-quarters of the $465 million originally approved by the GOP-led Legislature. Whitmer countered criticism since most of the money was aimed at propping up the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund by saying using taxpayer money to bolster a fund financed by taxes on businesses amounted to an improper corporate subsidy.

The virus is blamed for more than 334,000 deaths and 19 million confirmed infections in the United States.

Officials are tracking at least 1,040 active outbreaks as of Dec. 23. Top categories for outbreaks continue to be long-term care facilities, including nursing homes as well as manufacturing and construction sites, retail and schools.

The state recorded seven additional school outbreaks Monday, adding to a list of 144 school outbreaks.

The state considers 318,389 people recovered from the virus as of Wednesday.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_