A research team that identified the risk level for a coronavirus epidemic in states had to create a higher, more severe risk level to account for the current increase in COVID prevalence, cases, and hospital care in the country — and several states were moved to that grave category.
Since the summer, we have been monitoring data from the Covid Act Now team of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts and public policy leaders, which monitors and identifies the level of risk of the COVID-19 epidemic in each state. For months, the group had only four risk categories: “low”, “medium”, “high” and “critical”. Starting Saturday, however, the group includes a new, fifth level of risk: “severe”.
The map of color-coded states in America’s COVID Warning System, as the group calls it, with its scary shades of red, does just that: it warns Americans that the entire country has reached a critical moment with the virus. Covid Act Now even called this viral infection the “third wave” of the coronavirus country.
As of Saturday, 20 states, mostly in the Midwest, are brown, meaning they are experiencing a “severe outbreak” of COVID-19. Most of the remaining conditions – exactly 27 – are marked in red, meaning that the data show an “active or direct eruption”.
Michigan is currently experiencing an active or imminent epidemic, which is a critical level.
Vermont and Maine are the only two states “at risk of eruption” that are considered high risk. Hawaii is the only state where the disease is “slow to grow” on Saturday, with a medium level of risk.
Currently, there are no states that the group believes would be low-risk for coronavirus outbreaks.
Like most other states, Michigan’s risk of coronavirus transmission has changed steadily throughout the year due to fluctuating rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, contact monitoring, and more. During October and November, the state’s level of risk continued to move in an unfavorable direction as the virus spread faster than in previous months.
On Oct. 11, Covid Act Now saw a high risk of an outbreak in Michigan. Barely two weeks later, the state was seen as a critical risk.
Now, almost a month later, Michigan is still considered at a critical level of risk – but the data and key factors driving this title have deteriorated greatly during this time.
Daily new COVID cases in Michigan
One of the key factors contributing to Michigan’s critical risk status – and potentially the most significant – is the number of new COVID-19 cases registered daily for every 100,000 residents in the state.
As of Saturday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan sees an “critical” average of 70.8 new COVID cases per 100,000 people per day – close to the worst point on record. According to the data, Michigan’s highest average was 75.7 new cases for every 100,000 people on Nov. 21, which the group considers “extreme”.
In sharp contrast, in October, the group’s data showed that Michigan registered 25.7 new COVID-19 cases per 10,000 inhabitants every day.
Numbers higher than 1 are considered “medium” and numbers greater than 10 are considered “high”. A state has reached a “critical” situation if, according to the group, it means more than 25 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants per day.
On October 11, the state reported 11.7 new confirmed cases of COVID per 100,000 population at a “high” rate. During the summer, Michigan showed 7.1 new cases per day in mid-August and 7.3 on July 31 as “moderate”.
The group’s data are consistent with coronavirus cases and mortality data reported by the state of Michigan.
Michigan is currently experiencing the largest increase in COVID-19 cases. Over the past two months, the state has consistently broken records for a one-day increase in new COVID-19 cases. So far, the highest daily amount of new COVID cases in Michigan was 9,799 on November 20th.
Contact tracking – the lowest ever in Michigan
While COVID cases are on the rise in Michigan, contact tracking has declined significantly. In Michigan, contact has been steadily declining since June, and fell sharply between mid-September and late October.
Experts call contact tracking a key factor in COVID-19.
Since Friday, Covid Act Now reports that Michigan will be linked to the detection of 3 percent of new COVID-19 cases within 48 hours of infection – which health officials say is not enough to contain the virus. Experts recommend this at least 90 percent new COVID-19 cases can be tracked within 48 hours to retain the virus.
“Michigan has an average of 7,073 new cases, and an estimated 35,365 contact staff are needed to track all new cases within 48 hours of detection,” the report said. “According to the best available data, Michigan has 1,050 contact track markers that meet only 3% of this staffing requirement. Due to inadequate liaison staff, Michigan may not be able to successfully identify and isolate sources of the spread of the disease so quickly as to prevent new epidemics. “
When tracking a state’s contact falls below 20 percent, it is considered “low,” and when it falls below 7 percent, it is considered “critical” according to research. The average is between 10 and 90 percent.
The state currently has the lowest percentage of contact searches ever since the pandemic began.
Michigan has a positive test rate
While COVID-19 tests have increased in Michigan in recent weeks and reported more than 45,000 diagnostic tests a day, the state said the positive rate for these tests also rose to nearly 13 percent last week.
Covid Act Now represents a similar figure for Michigan: the group said 13.1 percent of COVID tests were positive on Nov. 23.
“A relatively high percentage of COVID tests (13.1%) were positive, indicating that testing is limited in Michigan and that the majority of cases cannot be detected,” read their report. “At these levels, it’s hard to know how fast COVID actually spreads … Caution is needed.”
According to the group, “The World Health Organization recommends a positive test rate below 10%. The most successful countries in reducing COVID are 3% or less. “
Connected: Michigan health officials want COVID test positivity rate below 3%
Viral hospital care is on the rise in Michigan, causing concern
Another aggravating factor that contributes to Michigan’s critical risk status is the increase in hospital care for COVID-19, including an increase in critical care and ventilator use in recent weeks.
The Covid Act Now argues that based on these trends, Michigan’s health systems may not be able to “absorb a wave of new COVID infections” and be flooded with viral patients. The group defines this level of risk by identifying how many intensive care unit (ICU) beds are available in the state and how many may be needed based on the level of coronavirus spread in the state.
“There are about 3092 ICU beds in Michigan. Based on the best available data, we estimate that 57% (1751) are currently occupied by non-COVID patients. Of the remaining 1341 ICU beds, 843 are required for COVID cases, or 63% of available beds. This suggests that hospitals are unable to accommodate a wave of new COVID infections in the right position without significant surges. Caution is warranted, ”the report said.
Many Michigan health systems and health executives have warned in recent weeks that many hospitals are already overcrowded and are concerned that the influx of COVID-19 patients could affect frontline workers as well as other hospital services and care.
Read: Leaders of Michigan’s four major hospital systems share the COVID-19 number
“Moderate” COVID infection rate in Michigan
Compared to last month’s data from Covid Act Now, Michigan’s COVID infection rate appears to be the only factor that has improved.
As of Saturday, data show that Michigan’s infection rate is currently 1.08 – meaning every COVID-19-infected person will infect 1.08 other people. A month earlier, the state was said to be 1.28.
The Covid Act now considers the rate of infection to be “critical” if it exceeds 1.4. Michigan’s current infection rate of 1.08 is considered “moderate,” meaning “COVID is still spreading, but slowly,” the group says.
While this factor has shifted in a promising direction, it is not enough to outweigh the other key factors that point downwards and contribute to the state’s critical risk status.
COVID-19 by county
The Covid Act Now also breaks down data at the county level, assigning each state’s county the level of coronavirus risk. The research team has been doing this for months, but now has the opportunity to see all of the U.S. counties on a map at once (see image below).
According to the data, there is a critical risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 in most counties in Michigan. All other counties in the state — except Schoolcraft County — are at high risk for the COVID-19 epidemic in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
Waiting for the holiday season, experts are asking Americans not to travel or celebrate with anyone outside their immediate household in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Promising COVID-19 vaccines are pending approval in the United States and beyond, but such a vaccine is not yet available for public use. To best prevent the spread of the virus, the CDC recommends that people continue to wear face shields in public areas, keep at least six feet away from others, avoid large crowds, and wash their hands frequently.
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