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State health leaders express "cautious optimism" about most recent coronavirus trends

Mick Haupt

State health leaders say there's reason for “cautious optimism” that new cases of coronavirus appear to be declining.

The test positivity rate has plateaued. New cases have been dropping for two weeks. The number of deaths is still rising, but not as quickly as before.

Those are the reasons for optimism.

“The challenge here is making sure that people are wearing masks, maintaining their social distancing, so that we don’t see a second surge,” says Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the state’s Bureau of Epidemiology.

Lyon-Callo gave an update Wednesday on recent trends in the coronavirus data collected by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

She said the state continues to track three main indicators to decide whether and when to lift the current restrictions on schools and businesses that are meant to help stop the spread of the virus: The three indicators are: confirmed daily cases per million residents, the test positivity rate and the percentage of inpatient beds being used to treat COVID-19 patients.

Lyon-Callo says the state looks at the 7-day average for each indicator. For this week, one of the indicators showed an improvement compared to last week, while two others were approximately flat or rising.

  • Confirmed cases: 515.6 per million residents this week, compared to 610 cases per million last week;
  • Test positivity: 14.4%, compared to 12.8% last week.
  • Inpatient Beds: 18.7% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 cases, compared to 18.6% last week.

Lyon-Callo said, while those three metrics will be watched closely to decide what public health steps to take next, health officials are looking at other numbers as well, such as the total number of tests administered, how many individual outbreaks there are and other data.
“So it’s a matter of having that context in order to interpret changes in those three metrics,” she says.

Lyon-Callo says it’s still too early to say whether Thanksgiving gatherings could lead to another surge in coronavirus cases in the state. The state tracks mobility data that gives a rough estimate of how many people are staying home, and the data shows a decrease in mobility since MDHHS issued orders to limit the size of gatherings in October.

But Lyon-Callo said there are limitations to the data on mobility, and it’s too soon to know for sure whether enough people stayed home over Thanksgiving to prevent further outbreaks of the virus.

Going forward, the concern is Christmas gatherings could also contribute to the spread.

In Wednesday’s presentation, the state also shared data on what it calls the “indirect impacts” of the virus.

Data from the Michigan State Police shows that overall, crime has decreased in the state in 2020, perhaps as a result of changes in behavior brought on by the pandemic. But violent crime has increased. Domestic violence is up 9%, aggravated assaults are up 9% and murder is up 20% so far this year, with much of the increase coming in the summer months.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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