MDHHS: Coronavirus metrics looking better but B.1.1.7 still spreading

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said the state’s coronavirus trends are improving and projected to keep getting better, but also warned the B.1.1.7 variant continues to spread.

Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo, MDHHS’s top epidemiologist, said during a Wednesday morning virtual briefing that the case and test positivity rates have both been declining for five weeks. The case rate is now 85% lower than it was when a case surge peaked in mid-November. The statewide average positive test rate has dropped below 4%, with 58 of 83 counties recording a rate below 3%.

Hospitalizations have dropped 23% from the previous week and 79% since the Dec. 1. peak. In all, about 5.2% of all hospital beds in the state have COVID-19 patients in them. Intensive care bed occupancy declined 13% in a week.

The daily death rate, a lagging indicator, is now 70% lower than the Dec. 10 peak.

Michigan now ranks 23rd among states in highest number of cases, 20th in highest number of deaths, 47th in case rate (up two spots), 36th in death rate (down one spot), 37th for highest hospitalization rate and 14th in highest number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU (up two spots). Michigan’s case rates are also lower than its Midwestern neighbors.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said during a press conference later Wednesday with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that she was “very encouraged” by the latest metrics.

WEDNESDAY NUMBERS

Michigan on Wednesday reported 939 more cases of the virus had been confirmed and 11 more related deaths recorded.

That brought the total number of confirmed cases in Michigan to 577,203 since the virus was first detected here in March 2020 and the total number of associated deaths to 15,188.

On Tuesday, labs in Michigan tested 27,614 samples for the virus and 1,041 were positive, a rate of 3.77%. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.

Kent County recorded three more deaths, bringing its total to 367, and confirmed 89 more cases for a total of 48,022 since the start of the pandemic.

Calhoun County reported two more deaths for a total of 216. It has had 8,135 confirmed cases.

Wayne County recorded one more death for a total of 3,869 and confirmed 129 more cases for a total of 92,894. Neighboring Oakland County has had 63,391 cases (124 more than the previous day) and 1,847 deaths (no change). Macomb County has had 54,186 cases (99 more) and 1,830 deaths (no change).

THE VARIANT

An increasing concern is the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus, which was first identified in the United Kingdom and spreads more quickly than the dominant strain. MDHHS says the state has now recorded 157 cases of that variant in 12 counties.

Ninety cases were found at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia alone.

Michigan has now recorded the third most B.1.1.7 cases of any state, behind Florida (379) and California (186).

The state says it is carefully tracking the variant to help slow its spread as much as possible. People are urged to keep practicing coronavirus mitigation protocols to fight it, and to get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms, have been expected to the virus or have traveled to places where the variant has been identified.

“Everyone has a role to play in slowing the spread of this new variant as there are possibly more cases that we don’t yet know about,” Dr. Khaldun said.

The vaccines being administered in the U.S. also work against B.1.1.7. People are urged to get vaccinated as soon as it is their turn to help tamp down B.1.1.7 and other virus mutations.

THE VACCINE

The vaccination rollout is continuing. Lyon-Callo said Michigan now ranks 15th in the nation for doses administered per 100,000 people. Some 514,000 Michiganders are now considered fully vaccinated with two shots. About 1.1 million people have gotten only their first dose.

The goal is to administer 50,000 shots per day around Michigan. To date, that has happened on 10 separate days. Collectively, the distribution sites across the state could probably give 80,000 shots per day, state officials say. Still, they have administered more than 65,000 doses on only one day.

The main holdup continues to be supply coming in from the federal government. The state is working to vaccinate about 5.6 million people. It will need about 11.2 million doses to do that. So far, it has gotten about 2.3 million from the federal government.

Lyon-Callo said if supply jumps in March — based on the Biden administration’s announcement that it will have secured 600 million doses by July — Michigan could get half the eligible population vaccinated by July.

Gov. Whitmer said the state is already seeing an increase in the number of doses it is getting each week and has been told to expect a three-week heads up from the federal government on the projected minimum shipment.

News 8 asked about the supply because the state announced it was adding more than three dozen providers to its allocation plan to improve access in underserved areas.

“Every week they’ve upped the numbers we expect, so we are able to build out with a mind toward making sure we’re increasing access for people,” Whitmer said. “So, it’s definitely because we’re seeing an increase here and we expect that will continue to be the case.”

President Joe Biden will visit Pfizer’s plant in Portage, where COVID-19 vaccines are being manufactured, Thursday to speak with workers there. Whitmer indicated she was not yet able to say whether she would attend and that details out of the White House were still limited.

SMALL BUSINESS AID

Gov. Whitmer’s office on Wednesday said that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation had sent some $52.5 million in Small Business Survival Grants to about 6,000 businesses around the state to help them weather the economic storm of the pandemic.

Businesses that have been shut down entirely got up to $20,000 and businesses that had seen partial closures could get as much as $15,000.

The cash was funneled through regional economic development agencies, including The Right Place, Inc., in West Michigan, which dealt with about $5.25 million, and Southwest Michigan First, which handled $4.15 million.

More information about MEDC grants offered amid the pandemic can be found at MichiganBusiness.org/COVID19response.

—News 8’s Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.

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