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Michigan deaths exceed 3,000 as COVID cases top 36,000

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

The death toll in Michigan tied to the novel coronavirus hit 3,085 on Friday, as the state recorded 108 additional deaths. 

The state confirmed 1,350 new cases Friday, bringing its cumulative total cases to 36,641 according to state data.

The new case figure was the largest daily increase in Michigan since April 15 and 25 more than the new cases reported Thursday, when the state reached 35,291 cases and 2,977 deaths. 

Michigan's rate of infection started to plateau during the last week, and the state now ranks seventh in the country for its number of COVID-19 cases.

"Heroes Work Here" is posted outside Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit on April 23, 2020. Sinai-Grace Hospital is in 48235, one of the zip codes with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

The state continues to rank third among U.S. states for deaths behind New York (nearly 21,000 deaths) and New Jersey (over 5,400 deaths), according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cited the plateauing level of new cases when she extended her stay-at-home order Friday for another three weeks, while lifting certain restrictions on businesses and outdoor activities. 

The state is also seeing fewer hospitalizations and fewer patients in intensive care units due to COVID-19, she said.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said at a news briefing Friday that her department would keep monitoring the data closely, attributing the leveling off of positive cases to the social distancing and other restrictions in place statewide. 

She urged those who think they may be sick to get tested, noting that criteria has expanded to include any Michiganian displaying mild symptoms. 

"If you have symptoms like fever, cough or difficulty breathing, we want you to seek out a test," Khaldun said. "If you are an essential worker, like working at a grocery store, even if you don't have symptoms, you can now seek out a test."

Khaldun said the state hit a high point in testing Wednesday, surpassing 7,400 daily tests for the first time. However, public health experts say the state needs to ramp up to 15,000 tests a day for a more comprehensive picture of the virus' spread, she noted.

"That is progress," she said. "We've expanded our testing criteria, and we've doubled the number of tests we were doing just a couple of weeks ago. Our work is paying off. We have to continue aggressively moving forward with expanding our testing, and we are doing just that."

State officials say the test is free for most people, many insurers are are waiving co-pays, and those with Medicaid or the Healthy Michigan Plan also will have no charge. 

“If you meet the testing criteria, and you’re told you don’t need a test or one isn’t available, it may mean that test site does not have the supplies needed to test. We encourage you to visit the online test site locator and call the nearest site regarding next steps,” Khaldun said in a Friday statement.

“We are hearing rumors the test isn’t safe or actually contains coronavirus,” she added. “That is untrue, and the swabs are completely safe and do not contain the virus.” 

The state is now requiring skilled nursing facilities to report suspected or confirmed COVID cases to the state health department. So far two-thirds of them have reported a total 2,218 cases, with 75% of those in southeast Michigan, Khaldun said.

Michigan's epicenter in the pandemic has been been Metro Detroit, with 74% of the state's cases and 82% of deaths reported in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, including Detroit, according to state data through Friday. 

But Michigan is seeing the rate of infection growing outside southeast Michigan.

For example, the number of positive cases more than doubled in west Michigan's Kent County from 354 on April 15 to 906 cases on Friday. Deaths are also on the rise, going from 16 to 29 in the county as of Friday, according to state data. 

mburke@detroitnews.com