Gov. Gretchen Whitmer touted her stay-at-home policies on Thursday after a new report showed a drop in infection rates after the implementation of the orders, even as the report itself warns that the pandemic is not yet over.
The Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team released a report on May 24 detailing how stay-at-home orders and other interventions impacted the infection rate in individual states in the U.S. The report shows that Michigan’s rate of infection fell as Whitmer instituted various polices such as closing restaurants and schools. It continued to fall when she instituted a stay-at-home mandate on March 23, crossing the threshold of infection rates fewer than one around March 30.
An infection rate of fewer than one means a person infected with coronavirus infected fewer than one other person, on average.
“Throughout this crisis, the vast majority of Michiganders have done the right thing by staying safer at home. Those who have done their part, especially the brave men and women on the front lines of this crisis, have helped us flatten the curve and save lives,” Whitmer said in a statement.
The report tracked mobility and travel within the states and did not account for behavioral changes, such as increased mask wearing or age-specific patterns. It also warned that the pandemic is not yet over and suggested “rapid testing, contact tracing and behavioral precautions” to offset an increase in spread as states reopen.
“We predict that increased mobility following relaxation of social distancing will lead to resurgence of transmission, keeping all else constant. We predict that deaths over the next two-month period could exceed current cumulative deaths by greater than two-fold, if the relationship between mobility and transmission remains unchanged…” the report read. “Overall, we show that while all US states have substantially reduced their reproduction numbers, we find no evidence that any state is approaching herd immunity or that its epidemic is close to over.”
Michigan currently has nearly 60,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 5,738 deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. More than 42,000 people have recovered in the state. The Upper Peninsula and the upper half of the Lower Peninsula is currently in Stage 5 of the MI Safe Start Plan, which allows restaurants and schools to reopen, as well as permits travel. The remainder of the Lower Peninsula is in Stage 4, which allows retail and restaurants to reopen and lifts the stay-at-home order.
“The data shows that our aggressive actions against this virus are working, and that implementing them has saved lives,” MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a statement. “We will continue to closely monitor the data and work with experts to ensure we lower the chance of a second wave and further protect Michigan families.”
The state has received pushback on its data measures as both politicians and activists call on Michigan to report and publish data about the coronavirus in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. Until recently, Michigan was one of just three states not reporting any data on coronavirus in long-term care facilities. South Dakota and Montana are still not reporting that data, according to the AARP.
“Whitmer’s administration continues to falsely claim they are using ‘data’ to inform decisions when the state still doesn’t have data on the most vulnerable populations in long-term care facilities,” said Tori Sachs, the executive director of Michigan Rising Action in a statement. “It is past time for the state to revise their policies on residents living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and release the data on the deaths that have occurred from COVID-19 there.”
The Michigan House of Representatives introduced legislation on Thursday that would voice opposition to Whitmer’s policies related to housing coronavirus patients in long-term care facilities.
Current policy requires that coronavirus patients in long-term care facilities be housed separately from non-diagnosed patients and that nursing homes without dedicated spaces send residents diagnosed with coronavirus to regional hubs.
“The governor says that data and facts are driving her public health decisions. You would think the roughly 1,600 nursing home resident deaths statewide and the average Michigan nursing home resident being over 80 are two strong data points against her current policy,” said Rep. Ryan Berman (R-39-Commerce) in a statement. “Long-term care facilities were never at the top of the governor’s priority list to receive personal protective equipment and staffing levels at these facilities are insufficient. They were never meant to serve as wards for people with a deadly virus. I am asking the governor to stop this senseless and irresponsible practice.”
Michigan has seen additional fallout from the pandemic, including increased risk of suicides and a rocketing unemployment rate.
One study predicting suicide rates in Michigan caused by despair from the pandemic projected a 32 percent rise of suicides in the state in 2020.
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services reported that isolation, insomnia, poor physical health and increased substance abused caused by the pandemic could all lead to higher suicide rates.
Unemployment rates in Michigan also shot up, at one point topping 22 percent — higher than the Great Recession, according to The Detroit News.
Recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor showed that a little more than 28,500 people filed for unemployment during the week ending June 6, a drop of nearly 11,000 from the week prior. Roughly 1.45 million Michigan residents are still on unemployment insurance, according to MLive.
Still, Whitmer expressed hope that the state’s ability to stave off a second wave of the virus, even as unemployment and mental health struggle.
“Our action is working, but we must stay vigilant and flexible in order to lower the chance of a second wave,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We owe it to the heroes on the front lines to keep doing our part by wearing a mask when in public and practicing social distancing. We will get through this together.”
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]
Background Photo “Georgia National Guard Cleaning Nursing Home” by The National Guard. CC BY 2.0.