2020 marked Michigan’s biggest public health crisis since the 1918 flu epidemic.
COVID-19 has proven more deadly than tuberculosis in the 1920s and ‘30s. More contagious than polio, which ravaged the state in the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s dwarfed the PBB scandal of the 1970s and the Flint water crisis that began unfolding five years ago.
More than one of every 1,000 Michigan residents has died of coronavirus so far. For those age 80 and older, it’s 13 of every 1,000.
A largely unknown virus a year ago, COVID-19 is the state’s third-leading cause of death this year, topped only by heart disease and cancer.
And while the data is still incomplete, 2020 already marks Michigan’s highest death rate since 1936, based on deaths per 1,000 residents.
Below is a look at the first 10 months of the pandemic by the numbers.
Rural counties as well as urban areas have been hard-hit.
Southeast Michigan was the epicenter of the initial surge of coronavirus in March and April, accounting for 70% of cases in those months.
But by December, the virus left no corner of the state unscathed.
In fact, adjusted for population, the Upper Peninsula now has a higher per-capita case rate than the metro Detroit region of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
The top 10 states in per-capita confirmed coronavirus cases: Dickinson, Iron, Delta, Branch, Menominee, Kent, Saginaw, Ottawa, Oceana and Bay.
Some may see it surprising that Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties aren’t on this list. One reason: When those counties were hard-hit in March and April, the very limited access to coronavirus testing put an artificial cap on the number of confirmed cases for those two months.
Below is an interactive map showing total confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. You can put your cursor over a county to see the underlying data. (Can’t see the map? Click here.)
Metro Detroit accounts for 53% of coronavirus deaths to date.
More than 6,500 of the 12,589 confirmed coronavirus deaths in Michigan involve residents of Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties.
A majority of the metro Detroit deaths occurred in March and April when the region was hard hit. During that time, hospitals were overwhelmed and doctors were struggling to develop effective treatment protocols for a virus they had never seen before. Both factors contributed to more deaths, experts say now.
By the time the virus spread in larger numbers to the rest of the state, patients were more likely to survive as doctors became more experienced in treating coronavirus, hospitals were less overwhelmed and expanded testing was picking up more mild cases of the virus.
Still, adjusted for population, several U.P. counties now have a high per-capita death rate.
The 10 counties with the most coronavirus deaths per-capita: Baraga, Iron, Ontonagon, Dickinson, Wayne, Saginaw, Oscoda, Bay, Iosco and Macomb.
(Can’t see the map? Click here.)
April has the worst month for coronavirus deaths
We still don’t know the final numbers of people who died of coronavirus in December, but it seems clear April was the Michigan’s worst month for confirmed coronavirus deaths in 2020.
This database shows the month-by-month trendline, based on date of death. It also allows readers to search any individual county to see the month-by-month numbers. (Can’t see database? Click here.)
New cases of coronavirus peaked on Nov. 10
While deaths peaked in April, Michigan’s peak for confirmed coronavirus cases was November, as evident in the search database below. (Can’t see database? Click here.)
Note the cases for this dataset are recorded by disease onset, which means the numbers for December are incomplete because of the lag time between when an individual first gets sick and that new coronavirus case is reported by the state.
Also note that in both databases, Detroit and the rest of Wayne County are listed separately. This database also lists cases for the Michigan Department of Corrections (listed as MDOC) and federal correctional institutions (FCI).
The fact that deaths were so high in the spring while the case numbers were relatively low is a reflection of the very limited access to coronavirus testing in March and April.
During the spring surge, cases peaked on March 30, with 1,551 falling sick that day. However, severe shortages of testing in the spring meant coronavirus cases were grossly under-diagnosed. The real numbers were undoubtedly much higher.
In the fall, with testing much more available, case numbers soared much higher, peaking at 9,667 sickened on Nov. 10.
The seven-day average of new cases peaked at 7,270 on Nov. 21. The average is currently 2,839.
Coronavirus deaths peaked on April 16
Coronavirus deaths peaked in Michigan on April 16, when 165 people died. The deadliest day this fall was Nov. 30, with134 deaths.
Of the 12,589 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Michigan in 2020, 3,745 — or 30% — occurred in April, when the state was averaging 125 deaths a day.
By July, that was down to an average of seven deaths a day. It’s currently about 82 deaths a day.
The chart below shows Michigan’s seven-day rolling average of confirmed coronavirus deaths, based on when those deaths were reported to the state. You can put your cursor over a bar to see the number. You also can click on the option just below the headline to see the actual number of new cases reported by day.
Coronavirus was Michigan’s No. 1 cause of death in April, and has been the No. 2 cause in the past six months.
At least 110,000 Michigan residents have died in 2020 of any cause, a 12% increase over 2019 and that’s with the 2020 numbers still incomplete, based on MDHHS data.
COVID-19 was the No. 1 cause of death in April, which set an all-time monthly record for total Michigan deaths at 13,067. Michigan averages about 8,100 deaths a month.
Between March and November, Michigan has had about 14,000 “excess deaths,” which is the number of deaths above the expected numbers during that time, according to calculations by the federal Centers for Disease Control. That likely includes undiagnosed coronavirus deaths as well as deaths from causes such as heart attacks and strokes as people delayed medical care during the pandemic, experts say.
Elderly has been hardest hit by coronavirus
Senior citizens have been hit hard by coronavirus: 73% of Michigan’s COVID-19 deaths are among people age 70 and older.
Many of those victims were residents of long-term care facilities, where congregate living makes the risk of outbreaks particularly high.
Since the start of the pandemic, 3,492 residents of skilled-nursing homes have died of COVID-19, as well as 786 who lived in other senior citizen facilities, 372 residents of group homes for adults with disabilities and 61 employees of long-term care facilities.
In all, residents and staff of long-term care facilities comprise 38% of all Michigan deaths from coronavirus.
By race, death rate has been highest among African Americans
Blacks comprise 14% of the state’s population, yet African-Americans account for 25% of the state’s confirmed coronavirus deaths.
Adjusted for population size, that means Black residents are twice as likely to die of the virus compared to white Michiganders.
Public-health experts and other researchers have offered numerous theories for the high toll of coronavirus in African American populations. Among those theories: Black residents are more likely to have pre-existing conditions such as obesity and more likely to lack health insurance and access to health care.
Another likely factor, many experts say, is the impact of institutional racism. Stress related to living in a society that marginalizes African Americans contributes to conditions such as high-blood pressure and also can compromise people’s immune system, making people more susceptible to the virus, experts say.
Hospitalizations have gone up, down and up again
On April 12, Michigan had 3,986 coronavirus patients who were hospitalized, including 1,570 in an intensive-care unit and 1,365 on ventilators, according to MDHHS. Most of those hospitalizations were in southeast Michigan.
By June 20, that had dropped to 310 in-patients with confirmed coronavirus.
By late November, hospitals across the state were full again. On Nov. 30, Michigan’s hospital systems were caring for 4,326 patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19; 851 were in the ICU and 531 were on ventilators.
As of Dec. 30, the most current data, the state had 2,758 patients hospitalized for coronavirus, including 629 in ICU and 368 on ventilators.
Michigan unemployment rate down from April but still elevated
The pandemic has ravaged Michigan’s economy, forcing business shutdowns and layoffs across the state.
In April, Michigan’s unemployment rate hit 24% and more than a million workers had filed for unemployment benefits.
In November, Michigan had an unemployment rate of 6.9% compared to a national average of 6.7%.
Michigan is below the national average in cases, but above average in deaths
At year’s end, Michigan ranked 40th in per-capita confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and 12th in per-capita deaths.
This map is shaded by 2020 per-capita coronavirus deaths. (Can’t see the map? Click here.)
And this one is shaded by per-capita coronavirus cases. (Can’t see the map? Click here.)
The reason Michigan is ranked much higher on per-capita deaths vs. cases goes back to two phenomenon in the spring: States such as Michigan that were hard-hit early in the pandemic saw very high death numbers because doctors were unsure how to treat a virus that had never seen before. At the same time, very limited access to testing in March and April artificially depressed the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases during those months.
Since May, the survival rate of coronavirus patients has improved as doctors figured out treatment protocols, plus access to coronavirus testing has improved substantially.
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