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Michigan closing out 2021 with record number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases

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With just a few days left in 2021, Michigan is reporting more new cases of COVID-19 than ever before. The state reported a total of 25,858 new confirmed infections on Tuesday and Wednesday. That sets a new record for the daily average of new cases in the state, and it sent the total number of infections in Michigan since the start of the pandemic to more than 1.5 million.

In a data update posted Tuesday, the state said 1 of every 10 people in the state had COVID-19 in 2021. And 1 in 1,000 Michiganders died from it.

Wednesday's numbers suggest the state could have more difficult days ahead in the pandemic, with new cases now at an all-time high.

It’s possible Michigan had more active cases during other times in the pandemic, especially early on when testing wasn’t as widely available.

But there are reasons to believe even this week's record numbers are an undercount of the true total number of cases. One of those reasons includes the rise of at-home testing.

“There is some underreporting,” said Linda Vail, the health officer for Ingham County. “But at least people are testing, and they have options to, you know, test before going to a family gathering, test before travel, test before, you know, going to some other sort of social gathering. We’ve got New Year’s Eve coming up.”

The rapid increase in new confirmed cases in Michigan comes as the new omicron variant of the virus sweeps across the globe, sending cases skyrocketing nearly everywhere. Nationwide, the U.S. set a record for confirmed cases on Wednesday, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University’s tracker.

With cases rising, it’s still not clear how severe infections with the omicron variant might be. Data from multiple countries seems to suggest that the variant could be milder than the delta variant, which ripped through Michigan this fall and has pushed many Michigan hospitals well beyond capacity.

In some places, including Florida, hospitalizations have increased along with the new surge in cases, but the increase in hospitalizations hasn’t been as sudden or dramatic as in previous surges, and it’s not clear yet that the cases are as severe.

In Michigan, 3,659 people were hospitalized with the virus, according to the state's Wednesday update. That number is a slight decline from a week ago, less than some hospital leaders were hoping for.

Spectrum Health in West Michigan is one hospital system where inpatient COVID numbers seem to have flattened out this week, after dropping earlier in the month. Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said in an update posted to Facebook on Tuesday that the inpatient numbers could be a sign that the new variant could cause more trouble for hospitals.

“We just don’t know yet,” Elmouchi said in the video. “But the fact that we’ve plateaued in our inpatient census makes me a little worried that we might start seeing an omicron surge after Christmas.”

Elmouchi said much of the research around omicron so far suggests cases will be milder, but that’s mainly for people who have been vaccinated. Already, unvaccinated patients make up the vast majority of COVID patients statewide, and with omicron now surging, Elmouchi said there’s no data yet to suggest unvaccinated people won’t get hit just as hard by omicron as previous variants.

“We have a pretty sizable unvaccinated population here in West Michigan,” Elmouchi said. “So [I’m] very worried that they might have serious illness.”

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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