Michigan’s top doc calls on more people to seek COVID-19 tests

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — State health officials on Wednesday reminded people who may have coronavirus to get a test to help track and contain the spread of the virus around Michigan.

Michigan on Wednesday reported 1,245 more confirmed cases of the virus and nine more related deaths. The state has now seen a total of 583,964 confirmed cases of the virus since it was first detected here in March 2020 and 15,405 associated deaths.

On Tuesday, labs tested 37,723 samples for the virus and 1,236 were positive, a rate of 3.28%.

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.

The total number of deaths in Kent County was revised down by one to 643. This has not been unusual as cases are double-checked and sometimes moved between jurisdictions. The county recorded 91 more confirmed cases for a total of 48,531.

Wayne County, where Detroit is and hit hardest by the virus, recorded two more deaths for a total of 3,907 and confirmed 184 more cases for a total of 93,948 since the start of the pandemic. Neighboring Oakland County has had 64,087 cases (109 more than the previous day) and 1,872 deaths (two more). Macomb County has had 54,792 cases (91 more) and 1,850 deaths (revised down by two).

At an afternoon press conference with the governor, the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Michigan’s virus metrics continue to improve, with the case, positivity, hospitalizations and death rates all on the downtrend.

But Khaldun said she is concerned by the decline in the number of tests being run each day. She urged anyone who has symptoms, has been exposed to the virus or who has been outside of the state in the last two weeks to get a test.

“While we are doing well, our progress is fragile,” Khaldun said. “We have to make sure we are doing enough tests so we can quickly identify any new cases, including cases infected by these new variants.”

She pointed specifically to finding where the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant is. As of Tuesday, 314 cases of the variant had been identified in Michigan, health officials said.

Also key in fighting the B.1.1.7 and preventing further mutations is the the vaccine rollout. So far, about 15% of people in Michigan have gotten at least one dose and about 8% have been fully vaccinated with both doses.

The state is now rolling out a pilot program aimed at getting shots to vulnerable populations. It is also breaking down race data for those who have been vaccinated, though that information has so far not been recorded for about 44% of people who got the shots.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who is helping head up a task force to encourage people to get vaccinated, said the state has designed a new reporting system to close that data gap. He also called on those who are being vaccinated to fill out the race section on forms to help create a complete view of the situation.

While the initial data indicated a disparity in vaccinations among Black people, Gilchrist pointed out that there’s so much information missing that it’s too early to draw conclusions.

“We do not know the race of almost 1 million of the nearly 2 million people who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine,” Gilchrist said. “We have to address that data problem so we can understand the shape of that problem.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, again called on the Republican-led Legislature to approve her COVID-19 recovery spending plan; specifically to release federal dollars for things like virus testing and the vaccine rollout, which she said will help ensure kids can learn safely in person.

The governor said up to 97% of Michigan public schools will have an in-person learning plan in operation by March 1 — the date her administration was aiming for — though most still offer a virtual option.

She has been promoting getting students back into class for weeks. On Wednesday, she spoke at length about why in-person learning is so important.

“From my personal experience as a parent, watching my own daughter and her classmates miss out on so much, I can see every day why it’s critical,” she said. “Schools are cornerstones of healthy vibrant communities. In addition to academic achievement, a school environment provides social and emotional skills that are foundational to our kids’ development. These qualitative aspects of childhood are difficult to develop without peer-to-peer interaction.”

She said that is particularly true for younger students.

Whitmer added that determinations about whether additional virus restrictions may be changed would be made in the coming days, though she was not specific about what she was looking at or when an announcement may come. The current epidemic order runs through March 29, but it would not be unusual for Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to announce an alteration to rules earlier than that.

The governor testified before Congress Wednesday morning about national infrastructure. She is also holding a virtual town hall on her state budget proposal at 3 p.m.; you can find coverage of that here.

—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed to this report.

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