Michigan reports 34 more COVID-19 deaths, falls to 5th nationally in death toll

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan on Friday reported 34 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, bringing the state's death toll to 5,406. 

The state also confirmed 607 new cases of the illness COVID-19 on Friday, for a total 56,621 known cases since the disease was first detected in Michigan this spring, according to state data.

The number of new cases has been declining overall. Michigan has averaged 388 cases a day for the last five days, compared with an average of 466 for the previous five-day period. 

A member of the National Guard moves beds at the TCF Center in this file photo. The field hospital was closed earlier this month after treating a total of 39 patients.

Michigan still ranks eighth across the country in its number of known COVID cases but fell to fifth Friday for deaths behind New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and now Pennsylvania, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. 

COVID deaths have slowed to a rate of fewer than 100 a day in Michigan for over a week. The state has averaged about 56 COVID deaths a day so far in May, compared with 118 a day in April. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a Friday news conference that her staff is meeting Saturday to review the data and decide whether she can make more moves to open more regions of the state or other sectors of the economy.

The cumulative proportion of positive COVID-19 tests in the state remains at about 13%, but for the past seven days tests averaged just over 4%, Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Friday. 

"That is really good news. We've also nearly reached our seven-day average goal of 15,000 tests per day," Khaldun said. 

She noted the state has expanded testing criteria so most people in Michigan are eligible to receive a test without a doctor's order. 

Khaldun also provided an update on the "devastating" toll the virus has had on seniors and others in nursing homes, saying at least 1,216 COVID deaths have been among nursing home residents, according to preliminary data gathered by the state from 91% of facilities.

"We think with improved data reporting that percentage is likely even higher," she said.

"These deaths are incredibly heartbreaking, and we take this very seriously. We must do everything we can to ensure that our elderly and our most vulnerable are protected from the virus in receiving the absolute best medical care."

The state is also aware of 4,949 cases of COVID-19 among nursing home residents, Khaldun said. 

County-level figures suggest the death toll among nursing home residents is even higher. The three-county area of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties (including Detroit) had at least 1,372 deaths among nursing home residents, representing a third of coronavirus deaths in Metro Detroit.

Robert Gordon, director of the state health department, this week acknowledged a reporting gap between the number of deaths that Metro Detroit facilities have reported to the county health departments and what they've so far reported to the state. 

Khaldun said Friday the state is working to close the reporting gap and expedite testing in skilled nursing facilities statewide.

Specialized infection prevention and assessment teams have worked with local health departments to do assessments of 278 nursing facilities throughout the state, she said. 

"They're doing things like making sure they're implementing best practices when it comes to isolation, screening residents and staff for symptoms, and the use of personal protective equipment," Khaldun said. 

Metro Detroit, including the city and Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, have accounted for 62% of Michigan's COVID-19 cases and 78% of the state's deaths overall.

Southeast Michigan has seen reductions in cases for seven weeks and is down to about 20 cases per million people per day, Khaldun said Thursday.

West Michigan, which had experienced the highest rate of new cases recently, had a reduction in cases for the last week, she said.

If the positive trends continue, Michigan will be able to continue moving forward with the next phases of reopening, Khaldun said.