Michigan eyes creeping positive test rate as Whitmer calls for more federal aid

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Again Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on the federal government to provide more aid to state governments to help them weather the harsh effects of the coronavirus on their budgets.

Her statements came during a press conference on the state of the virus in Michigan, during which the chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said that while the number of new cases has remained manageable, the percentage of positive tests continues to rise slowly.

“Overall over the past two weeks, we’ve seen a plateau in the number of daily new cases,” Khaldun said at the briefing in Lansing. “We continue … to see low levels of deaths and hospitalization rates remain steady. These are both very good signs.”

The virus has infected 79,176 people in Michigan since March and killed 6,170. That’s an increase of 669 cases over the previous day. Sixteen more deaths were also recorded, 11 of which were discovered in a routine check of death certificates to find any that weren’t previously reported to the state.

Labs in Michigan on Monday tested 24,724 samples for coronavirus and 1,202 came back positive. The number of new cases and positive tests do not match because people may be tested more than once. The state says its reporting system accounts for repeat tests so a single person can’t account for more than one case. The positive percentage for Monday along was 4.86%, the highest it has been since May 29, when it was above 6%.

Statewide, Khaldun said, the percentage of positive tests crept up from an average of 3.6% to 3.7% over the span of a week. She said experts look to an average rate of below 3% to indicate community spread is under control.

She also offered good news in saying that each region of the state is now meeting its goal for testing. The state wide daily average for tests is about 27,000, about 5,000 more than the previous week.

“When there’s increased testing and the percentage of tests that are positive goes up, it indicates that there may be community spread going on,” Khaldun said.

COUNTY-BY-COUNTY INCREASES

Two of the newly recorded deaths were in Kent County, which has now had 151 deaths linked to the virus. Kent County also confirmed 62 more cases for a total of 6,288 since the outbreak started.

The following West Michigan counties also recorded one additional death each for the following totals:

  • Berrien County: 64 total deaths, 1,065 confirmed cases.
  • Calhoun County: 39 total deaths; 617 confirmed cases.
  • Cass County: Eight total deaths; 247 confirmed cases.
  • Muskegon County: 57 total deaths; 1,051 confirmed cases.
  • St. Joseph County: Seven total deaths; 468 confirmed cases.

Wayne County, which has been hit hardest by the virus, added six deaths to its tally for a total of 2,664 and confirmed 150 more cases for a total of 24,866 since the outbreak began. Also in southeast Michigan, Oakland County has had 10,930 confirmed cases, 68 more than the day previous. The number of deaths was revised down by one to 1,084, which is not uncommon as health officials double-check numbers and sometimes move deaths to a different jurisdiction. Macomb County has had 8,726 cases (71 more) and 900 deaths (steady).

According to the state’s MI Start Map, West Michigan as a region no longer has the highest number of new cases per million people per day, again falling behind the Detroit area after two weeks of steady decline. The region’s overall rate is now below 40 cases per million people per day, though the rate for Kent County alone is still quite high at more than 56.

Still, Khaldun said the numbers were good enough to move West Michigan out of the high-risk classification and down to medium-high risk, where much of the rest of the state is.

Rates are also decreasing in the Kalamazoo and Lansing regions, which each have more than 30 cases per million people per day.

The Jackson region is now seeing just under 30 new cases per million people per day, having seen a slow increase over the last six weeks.

The Upper Peninsula and Traverse City region are still seeing under 20 cases per million people per day. The Traverse City region is the only one in the state considered a medium risk area.

Gov. Whitmer again called on everyone to wear a mask in public — required by executive order — and urged President Donald Trump to issue a nationwide mask mandate.

The president has been hesitant to throw the full weight of his office behind masks, refusing to wear one in front of cameras for months before he finally did so. He has become more supportive of them in recent weeks, declaring in a recent tweet that wearing them is patriotic.

CONTACT TRACING

In addition to reminding everyone to wear a mask in public, Khaldun urged people to practice 6-foot social distancing, wash their hands frequently and answer the phone for contact tracers.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is amping up contact tracing, with Khaldun saying it had distributed $10 million to local health departments to conduct the work. MDHHS is also rolling out a text messaging system to reach out to those who have been exposed and tell them to expect a call from a contact tracer.

“The most important thing we need everyone to do is answer their phone when public health staff attempt to call you,” Khaldun said. “I know that sometimes people do not pick up their phone if they see a number that they don’t recognize, but this additional text messaging platform will allow you to know that there’s a call that will be coming from a public health staff.”

If you get such a call, no one will ask you for information like bank account or Social Security numbers, but they will ask you for information about who you’ve been with so then can contain outbreaks.

Khaldun said about a third of recently identified outbreaks have been in long-term care facilities like nursing homes, 22% were linked to social gatherings, 10% were associated with a workplace and 9% restaurants. Other outbreaks have been at child care facilities, farms, bars, personal care services and gyms.

“There are still times, and this is important, when the local health department is unable to identify where a person may have gotten the disease from,” Khaldun said, saying they could find the source of infection for only about a third of new cases.

She told anyone experiencing symptoms or who has been exposed to the virus to stay home and get tested. You can go to the state’s website to find a testing site near you, including options to find only free sites or those that don’t require a doctor’s order.

“Our preliminary data is showing us that about a third of people who test positive are already in quarantine at the time that we contact them. This is an important metric that we will continue to monitor,” Khaldun said. “The more people know that they’ve been exposed and are in quarantine before they have a positive test result, the more we will be able to box in the disease.”

WHITMER BACKS DEMOCRATS’ AID PACKAGE

Whitmer, a Democrat, praised the next coronavirus aid package put forth by the Democrat-controlled House and urged the Republican-led Senate to move that plan forward.

She said the aid plan that Republicans put forward “does not accomplish the goal of helping states.”

“I implore everyone in Washington, D.C., to stop the partisanship and get something done,” she added. “…What we need is the U.S. Senate to come to the table ready to negotiate with the House.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discusses the need for more federal aid to states during a July 28, 2020 briefing in Lansing. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

State Budget Director Chris Kolb said federal aid was “key” in resolving the budget for the current fiscal year, which faced a multibillion-dollar revenue deficit. He said it will be critical again in working out the budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1 and is facing a more than $3 billion shortfall.

“The fact of the matter is that when we are facing a shortfall in the billions, we need additional aid from Congress to help us solve it,” Kolb said.

He said the plan suggested by Senate Republicans and backed by the White House doesn’t include any aid for states and municipalities, which he called “pretty unbelievable.” The Democrats’ plan from the House, he said, would send $13 billion in aid for governments to Michigan over two years.

State Budget Director Chris Kolb discusses the need for more federal aid to states as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a July 28, 2020 briefing in Lansing. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Kolb and the chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce cited the Federal Reserve in saying that failing to help state and local governments could prolong the recession.

Kolb said Michigan will hold another revenue estimating conference in August to help determine its net steps in the budget process. He said he and the Republican-led state Legislature would have to work quickly after that conference to design a budget.

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