Michigan COVID-19 cases rise for second straight week, but death toll falls

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Michigan added 1,289 cases and 56 deaths on Saturday, ending the week with more 811 cases but 19 fewer deaths over the prior week.

The latest reported figures bring Michigan's total number of cases to 596,054 and deaths to 15,666 since the virus was first detected in March 2020, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

For the week ended Saturday, the state recorded 8,473 cases and 144 deaths. This compared with last week's totals of 7,662 cases and 163 deaths. 

The deaths reported Saturday include 48 deaths identified during a vital records review.

Last week's numbers represented the first time weekly cases had grown since early January. In the prior week, Michigan totaled 5,695, cases and 209 deaths, the lowest weekly case total since Sept. 20. 

At the end of November, the state established the weekly record of 50,892 cases. The weekly record of 808 deaths was recorded in mid-December.

The latest numbers come as Michigan prepares on Monday to expand eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccines to residents 50 years and older who have pre-existing conditions or disabilities that put them at greater risk of suffering severe virus symptoms. 

In another two weeks, eligibility will be opened to all of those age 50 years and older.

Data on hospitalizations, testing and new cases all trended in hopeful directions the state appears to be moving past a second wave that hit in late November. The percentage of COVID-19 tests bringing positive results has plateaued at 3.7% since the previous week, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive.

One region, the Upper Peninsula, is below 3% and all of the state's 83 counties have a positivity rate below 10%, according to the state.

During the week of Feb. 28, Michigan has increased from the 18th highest number of cases in the nation to the 16th highest, and the state has the 21st highest death rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control's COVID data tracker.

Michigan ranks 36th in the nation for most hospitalizations and 15th for most patients in intensive care units, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

In Michigan, 3.9% of hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus patients.

Hospitalizations are up 5% since last week, the first increase since December.

As of Friday, the state has 850 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with 222 in intensive care units and 97 on ventilators. 

New York, Georgia, New Jersey, Texas and Missouri have the highest per capita hospitalized patient numbers.

As of Thursday, Michigan has the second-most cases of the virus variant B.1.1.7. with 437 cases — 300 cases are within the Michigan Department of Corrections. Florida has the most, 642 cases of the variant.

The first case of the variant was identified in January in a University of Michigan student who had traveled from the United Kingdom. The variant has spread significantly in Washtenaw and Wayne counties. An outbreak of 90 cases at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia County appears to be the largest cluster of the variant and has spread to two other Michigan jails, corrections officials said.

Vaccines rolled out in phases

Preliminary COVID-19 vaccination timeline from the state health department.

As vaccines continue to be rolled out in phases, the state said it remains committed to having 50,000 shots administered per day as supplies increase, with a goal to get 70% of the population ages 16 and older, about 5.6 million people, vaccinated "as soon as possible." 

The state is preparing to open COVID-19 vaccine availability to people over 50 years old with health risks, such as preexisting conditions or disabilities, starting Monday.

People over the age of 50, regardless of health condition, are eligible to begin receiving the vaccine starting March 22, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The state also will open eligibility, starting Monday, to caregiver families and guardians caring for children with special health needs. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer easing some COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday on businesses, nursing homes and other gatherings, including doubling capacity limits at restaurants from 25% to 50%.

In addition, the new order will extend the curfew for Michigan restaurants from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. and soften its restrictions on retailers, gyms, some events and residential gatherings. It will also allow family members who test negative for COVID-19 to visit relatives in nursing homes, Whitmer said.

The current phase allows for the 65 and older age group to receive a dose of vaccine as well as front-line workers such as first responders, some state and federal workers and jail and prison staff. Pre-K through 12th-grade teachers and childcare providers also are eligible for vaccinations. Workers in food processing, an estimated 79,000 Michigan residents are eligible to be vaccinated as of Monday. 

According to data on Michigan's vaccine website, more than 2.3 million doses have been administered out of more than 2.9 million doses shipped to Michigan.

As of Monday, about 18% of Michigan's population has at least one dose and 10.2% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state.

The virus is blamed for more than 520,000 deaths and 28 million confirmed infections in the U.S.

The number of new outbreaks has decreased by 9% from the previous week, the state said Tuesday. On Monday, the state reported 103 new outbreaks. Of those outbreaks, 16 are in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes or group homes and 27 are in K-12 schools. 

Construction and manufacturing settings have 18 new outbreaks.

The state considers 541,258 people recovered from the virus as of Friday.

nrubin@detroitnews.com