Michigan Leads US With Highest Number of COVID-19 Cases Per Capita, More Vaccines Coming

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Detroit Free Press
March 31, 2021
Christina Hall and Dave Boucher

More COVID-19 vaccines are headed to Michigan as the state ranks No. 1 in the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita over the last seven days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office.

The state rose to the top of the list with 361.5 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days, followed by New Jersey and New York, according to the CDC’s website.

On Tuesday, Whitmer asked the White House whether it would consider sending more vaccines to states with rapidly increasing COVID-19 case rates during a meeting hosted by the White House and the National Governors Association.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said officials were thinking about how to address hot spots and that they will do “everything we can to support you as you face a difficult situation in Michigan,” according to a readout of a conference call provided by the office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Later, Whitmer said that next week Michigan will receive more vaccines to help mitigate the surge in cases in the state. She said the state’s direct allocation will increase by 66,020 doses, for a total of 620,040 vaccines, a weekly record high for Michigan. This includes 147,800 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Millions of additional doses will be sent to federally partnered retail pharmacies in the U.S., which includes numerous locations in Michigan, she said.

“These additional doses of the safe, effective vaccines will help us slow the spread of the virus, return to normalcy, and continue building our economy back better. As we work closely with our state’s leading health experts to monitor COVID-19 trends, I’m asking Michiganders to double down on smart precautions,” she said.

“The pandemic is not yet behind us, but we’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to protect ourselves and our loved ones. …However, until we equitably vaccinate enough Michiganders 16 and up, everyone has to do their part. …There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in it. The only way out is forward and together. Let’s get it done.”

Michigan also is second in the country — behind only Florida — in the number of cases of the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant, according to the CDC website.

The number of variant COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Michigan, with an additional 68 cases bringing the state’s total to 1,358 as of Tuesday.

A majority of the cases, 99%, are the B.1.1.7 strain —  of which 35% are associated with outbreaks at Michigan prisons. Other variants identified include the B.1.427 and B.1.429, first detected in California, and the B.1.351, first detected in South Africa.

The news Tuesday came as Spectrum Health in west Michigan announced that, effective immediately, it will vaccinate anyone age 16 or older as coronavirus cases surge on that side of the state, positivity rates climb and more younger people are being hospitalized. Health system officials said they have yet to care for someone fully vaccinated — a good reminder to sign up for an injection.

Spectrum Health West Michigan President Dr. Darryl Elmouchi said COVID-19 inpatient hospitalizations were at 139 Tuesday afternoon, close to triple what it was a few weeks ago when the number of patients with the virus was in the low 50s. He said ICU admissions doubled in four days, but is still manageable.

Elmouchi said the average age of the patients now is about 60 years old, younger than the prior surge when the average age was about 73 years old. Patients over age 70 are declining, while patients under age 40 are increasing, he said, a reflection of what’s going on in other hospital systems across the state.

Spectrum also is limiting the number of visitors, starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday, to one per adult patient and two for obstetrics and pediatrics, as well as visitors for end-of-life patients, Elmouchi said.

This follows three southeast Michigan health systems that put various visitor restrictions in place already: Beaumont Health, Ascension Michigan, and Henry Ford Health System.

Health officials, from the federal to local levels, are closely monitoring the uptick in cases and hospitalizations at the same time as they push to get as many shots in arms as possible, particularly among younger Michiganders who have not been vaccinated like their elder counterparts.

This is all colliding in the midst of spring break and more people traveling across the United States.

On Monday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said any city resident age 16 and older is eligible for a vaccine as cases and hospitalizations climb. The move comes days ahead of the April 5 date when Whitmer said all Michiganders age 16 and older would be eligible to receive a vaccine.

On Monday, Whitmer’s press secretary Bobby Leddy said that to make sure no shots go to waste “we continue to ask providers to fill every vaccine appointment with someone 16 years or older. We know the quicker we can vaccinate Michiganders, the quicker we can eliminate COVID-19 and get back to normal day-to-day activities.”

Michigan has recorded 665,948 COVID-19 cases and 16,082 deaths as of Tuesday, according to state data.

More than 2.6 million Michiganders (33% of the population) have received at least one dose of vaccine, with more than 4.2 million doses being administered so far, the state data shows.

Local health departments are urgently pushing forward with more vaccination sites as supplies roll in.

Macomb County is rolling out four new vaccination sites — two in Warren, one in Sterling Heights, and one in Chesterfield Township — for county residents in a matter of four days.

The various sites, via appointment, are on top of three locations already in place in Clinton Township, Richmond/Lenox, and Sterling Heights. The county also has been working with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation in a push to get senior citizens vaccinated.

On Tuesday, Oakland County announced it’s teaming with SMART to provide transportation for people to and from their scheduled vaccine appointments. The entities incorporated the transportation service into the COVID-19 vaccination registration form at OaklandCountyVaccine.com.

Residents who need transportation check a box to indicate they need a ride to their appointment. When they receive their confirmation email, they call 800-848-5533 to schedule their ride to and from the clinic.

On Monday, the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic in Grand Rapids set a record by administering 12,532 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in a 12-hour period.

“We’re thrilled that so many people understand the way out of this pandemic is through vaccination,” Spectrum Health Chief Operating Officer Brian Brasser said. “While it’s difficult to ascertain whether 12,532 vaccinations is, indeed, a nationwide record, we invite anyone who knows of a larger clinic to reach out so we can congratulate them. The more vaccines we can all give the better!”

Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, said people need to treat this surge seriously — mask up, wash hands, and social distance — in an effort to make this surge the virus’ last.

Elmouchi said coronavirus testing may decrease with so many people gone for spring break, but he doesn’t want people to get a false sense of security and he anticipates a rise in testing and positive cases in the week or two after the break.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday it is monitoring the data and ramping up testing.

It has sent antigen tests to long-term care facilities and free tests have been conducted at neighborhood testing sites as well as with students, student-athletes, and educators in K-12 schools in more than 500 school districts, according to a release.

Testing for student-athletes begins Friday and free post-spring break testing pop-up sites are planned for school districts in 34 communities, it states.

Testing sites at Welcome Centers and airports in Michigan also are in the works for returning travelers.

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