Michigan Bounces Back While Trump Rages
Gretchen Whitmer is leading one of the nation’s best COVID-19 recoveries despite the President’s best efforts
Michigan has gotten a lot of attention from Donald Trump recently.
Sadly, he’s missing the important story.
While the President has been ranting about the women holding the state’s top three elected offices — Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Attorney General Dana Nessel — he’s ignored Michigan’s recovery from COVID-19.
Whitmer has continued to draw the ire of Trump and his supporters by following the standards set out in her Michigan Safe Start Plan. That plan was based on the White House plan along with her own scientific panel. She has allowed northern parts of the state to move to Stage 4, but the rest of the state remains in Stage 3. Her stay-at-home order has been extended until June 12 — a decision upheld by Claims Court Cynthia Stephens on May 21.
“While the data shows that we are making progress, we are not out of the woods yet. If we’re going to lower the chance of a second wave and continue to protect our neighbors and loved ones from the spread of this virus, we must continue to do our part by staying safer at home.” — Gretchen Whitmer, May 22
She has lifted a few restrictions — gatherings up to 10 people are allowed with proper social distancing and retail businesses can re-open on an appointment basis — but the numbers support her decisions. Michigan is closer than most states to meeting the White House standards, but the governor refuses to rush the process.
“If we open too soon, thousands more could die and our hospitals will get overwhelmed. While we ﬁnally have more protective equipment like masks, we can’t run the risk of running low again. We owe it to the real heroes on the front lines of this crisis — our first responders, health care workers and critical workers putting their lives on the line every day — to do what we can ourselves to stop the spread of the virus.” — Whitmer
There are five areas that states should control before moving to the next step of the reopening process: cases, hospitalizations, deaths, testing capability, and positive-test percentage. New Mexico has consistently improved in all five areas while several other states, including Michigan and New York, have met all five criteria at times without being able to maintain them.
For most states, including Michigan, this is the toughest number to control. Although cases are generally declining, a minor local outbreak or a change in test protocols can interrupt a steady drop in numbers. Michigan had an upward spike on May 12, mostly caused by a large number of backlogged tests being reported by two private labs, and has adjusted their numbers this weekend to separate results from diagnostic and serological tests.
The state reports cases by the onset date of symptoms, not the test date, in order to get a clearer picture of the disease’s progress. The state peaked around 1,200 new cases at the beginning of April before falling to half that number in early May. The running seven-day average has been under 400 for the past six days.
One problem has been in an area anchored by Grand Rapids and Muskegon on the Lake Michigan side of the state. For the last 10 days, they have had more new cases than both the city of Detroit and its heavily populated northern suburbs.
Michigan began to report daily hospitalization data on April 12 and has seen steady improvement across the board. Statewide, the number of patients receiving inpatient care has dropped by 78 percent, the number of patients needing critical care is down by 74% and there has been an 82% drop in patients on respirators.
Those numbers are even more pronounced in Metro Detroit — the area hardest-hit by the disease. Inpatient care has dropped by 85%, critical-care patients are down 79% and the number on respirators is down 85%.
The state is also doing well in terms of hospital capacity. They are currently using 67% of ICU beds and a third of available respirators.
It has been difficult to get a day-to-day handle on the death toll in Michigan, due to their thrice-weekly adjustments for fatalities that were not originally classified as COVID-19 deaths. Those adjustments are made on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, meaning the fairest comparisons use a seven-day running average. The state peaked at 145 on April 16, about two weeks after the case numbers peaked, and dropped steadily for the next month. On May 17, the seven-day average reached 49 and it has stayed in the high 40s for the last eight days.
Michigan’s testing numbers have jumped around since the backlogged tests were put into the system in mid-May and changed drastically again on Memorial Day weekend. Like the CDC and several other states, Michigan had been including diagnostic tests and serologic tests in the same category in their data. That’s a significant mistake since the tests measure different things. The diagnostic tests are designed to show if you have COVID-19 at the time of the test, while the serology tests check to see if you’ve had the virus in the past. The former is used for people who are currently ill, while the latter is designed to find people who have already caught the virus and are therefore immune in the short term.
Since mid-May, Michigan has averaged just under 14,000 tests a day. A Harvard study recommends the state needs to do 15,400 tests a day to adequately track new outbreaks after moving to the next stage of their reopening plan. They reached that number on May 19, then did 18,657 tests on May 22.
Positive Test Rate
Whitmer’s plan doesn’t set a firm target for positive test results, but most scientists have said a state’s positive rate should be in single digits before reopening is allowed to proceed. The lack of a concrete guideline could make it difficult for states to decide if they are ready to move forward, but Michigan doesn’t have that issue. Their positive percentage has been single digits every day since April 30 and dropped under five percent on May 21 and 22.
Michigan is making progress across the board, but Whitmer was completely right to extend her stay-home order into June. The state’s case numbers are trending downward, but the numbers on the west side of the state are still a concern. To this point, that outbreak has not caused the region’s death numbers to spike, but positive tests were over 10 percent on both May 21 and 22 — the last two days of data.
There has also been a plateau in the daily number of deaths, with the 7-day average staying in the high 40s for more than a week. There were only five deaths reported on Sunday, but numbers are consistently low on holiday weekends. Wednesday will be an important test since it will have the deaths there were not reported over the three-day weekend.
The unfortunate mixing of diagnostic and serological tests meant the state has been slightly below the target of 15,400 diagnostic tests per day instead of well above it. That should be a simple fix, though, and it is good to know the state has already identified more than 7,000 people who should be able to return to work without risk.
All in all, the state has made outstanding progress, considering how close the health-care system came to collapsing in early April. However, Governor Whitmer’s caution — while abnormal in the current climate — is what Michigan needs as summer begins.