Michigan leads the nation in new COVID cases, according to CDC data

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Michigan again leads the country in new COVID-19 cases per population over the last seven days, according to tracking data Tuesday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state has reported a seven-day new case rate of 504 per 100,000 residents, the highest number nationally, the CDC found. Minnesota followed in second at 490. The figures are another setback in the state's 20-month fight against the virus and came amid spikes in new infections that are testing the capacity of Michigan's hospitals.

Michigan last led the nation in new cases per population in the spring during a surge that peaked in April. It remains unclear how long the latest surge will last and how it will affect health care workers who've been dealing with the pandemic since March 2020. 

During a Tuesday press conference, nine days before the Thanksgiving holiday, Henry Ford Health System officials described the trends in COVID-19 as "very alarming."

"We are gravely concerned," said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, the chief clinical officer for the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System. "We were hoping that we would be in a better situation this Thanksgiving than we were last year, especially with the availability of the vaccines.

"We've been watching with trepidation and worry the number of COVID cases climb and rise throughout our community and around the state."

Munkarah urged those planning to gather for Thanksgiving next week to get vaccinated.

"Vaccine status continues to be the most important and paramount in keeping all of us safe," he said. "So for those of you who are gathering with family, we hope that all of you have been vaccinated because this provides significant safety and protection for all of you."

Melia Frame (left), renal transport, Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn,  pushes a gurney to transport a covid-19 patient on the 8th floor on the South Tower at Beaumont Hospital Dearborn on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

Michigan reported 3,040 adults hospitalized with the virus on Monday, the largest number since late April and a 19% increase over the tally seven days ago.

Across Henry Ford's five hospitals, there were 289 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday. Of them, 69% were not fully vaccinated, according to the health system. Among the 61 people in intensive care units with COVID-19, 80% were not fully vaccinated. 

The individuals who have been vaccinated and are hospitalized with the virus tend to be older and have more underlying conditions than those who are unvaccinated, Munkarah said.

Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations and the percentage of tests bringing positive results have been slowly trending upward for months. But over the last two weeks, they've jumped more quickly.

Last week, 16.4% of Michigan's COVID-19 tests came back positive, the second-highest weekly rate since June 2020, according to data by the state Department of Health and Human Services. The highest rate was during the first full week of April at 16.5%.

The highest weekly total of the surge in November and December 2020 was 14.2%.

The percentage, which experts say provides some insight on the level of community transmission in the area and whether enough testing is happening, has generally been trending upward since June.

Likewise, at Spectrum Health West Michigan, Dr. Darryl Elmouchi said the number of COVID-19 inpatients had been slowly increasing since the summer. Then, over the last two weeks, there was a "dramatic shift" upward.

As of last week, 85% of the patients with COVID-19 weren't vaccinated, Elmouchi said.

“If you are younger and healthier and you’re unvaccinated, you have a significant risk of being hospitalized, being in our ICU, being on a ventilator or even dying of COVID-19," the Spectrum Health West Michigan president said. "If you’re vaccinated, there’s no vaccine that’s perfect, you are very well protected. And It’s only a small number of older, sicker people who end up in our hospitals."

Bob Riney, Henry Ford's chief operating officer, tied the current trends to the percentage of Michigan residents who aren't fully vaccinated — about 46% of those age 5 and older — and transmission at schools where masking discipline and social distancing have decreased compared with last year.

"We're all human beings," Riney said. "We slowly let our guard down. We don't want to wear masks. They're inconvenient. We want our old lives back so much."

Michigan experienced a spike in COVID-19 infections last year at this time as well.

On Nov. 15, 2020 — a year ago Monday — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced restrictions on dining at restaurants and in-person high school and college classes to try to combat it. That surge peaked in early December.

It's unclear whether the current jump in cases will follow a similar pattern. Whitmer's spokesman Bobby Leddy gave no indication this week that the governor's administration will use its emergency powers to intervene.

"We continue to encourage Michiganders to get vaccinated as this is the best way to keep people safe and ensure that businesses and schools can safely operate," Leddy said Monday about Whitmer's response to the surging COVID-19 numbers.

"The vast majority of Michiganders have done the right thing to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in indoor gatherings, getting tested and quarantining after exposure, or staying home if feeling unwell.

"For those who aren’t vaccinated, it’s even more important to take these scientifically proven precautions to reduce the risk of catching the virus and minimize possible symptoms in the event of exposure. We all have the tools at our disposal to slow the spread and keep ourselves safe."

A coalition named the Michigan Parents Alliance for Safe Schools repeated its calls for statewide mask requirements and consistent quarantine practices in schools.

"The connection between overwhelmed hospitals and schools without mask requirements is clear. It’s long past time for policymakers to require everyone to do their part — even those who have been fooled by anti-science rhetoric — by requiring universal masks in schools," said Emily Mellits, a Macomb County parent, in a Tuesday statement from the organization.

Munkarah, the Henry Ford doctor, said people should get vaccinated if they're attending Thanksgiving gatherings and open windows at their homes so air can circulate at the events.

"By all means, if you are not feeling well, if you are running a fever or are short of breath or tired and suspect that you might have either the flu or COVID, please stay at home," he said.