Who and where Michigan’s coronavirus surge is hitting hardest


Michigan’s coronavirus numbers are now at their highest point in 2021.

“When you see that Michigan is the second-highest state in the country right now for coronavirus cases, it’s a gut punch,” said Melissa Samuel, CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan.

It’s a surge with some unique characteristics. Below is a look at the geographic areas where the outbreaks are most severe and the age groups most impacted.

Here are the trendlines in recent weeks.

Highest case numbers are among younger adults

Young adults in their 20s have had the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the past three weeks and the surge in that age group was been particularly apparent in the past week.

“We’re definitely seeing the impact of St. Patrick’s Day,” said Emily Toth Martin, a University of Michigan epidemiologist.

Who and where Michigan’s coronavirus surge is hitting hardest

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Twenty-somethings accounted for 10,842 new cases since March 5, and more than half of those have been reported since the weekend after St. Pat’s Day.

The chart below looks at the numbers for three seven-day periods from Saturday through Friday. These are not cumulative totals, but the numbers of new cases reported during each seven-day period.

Who and where Michigan’s coronavirus surge is hitting hardest

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Also significant is the rise in cases among people under 20.

In the past three weeks, people under age 20 have accounted for 21% of new cases compared to 13% during the first year of the pandemic. Daily average case rates since March 5 are up 195% for children under 10 and 205% for ages 10-19 compared to the average for the previous year.

Experts attribute the increase to the reopening of schools and resumption of school sports, but say classrooms and sports field themselves may not necessarily be the source of infection. Rather, it could be the activities around school, such as athletes and their families eating together after a competition.

On Friday, Ann Arbor Public Schools has paused all spring sports after a recent surge in COVID-19 cases involving student-athletes has resulted in more than 150 quarantined or paused from participation.

“This is an important time to remind families of the importance of limiting socializing outside of your household unit,” said Paul DeAngelis, the district’s executive director for high school education. “While COVID-19 protocols have been followed carefully on school campuses, we are aware that off-campus socializing has contributed to some student-athlete cases.”

Ann Arbor Public Schools pauses spring sports after surge in COVID-19 cases

Also significant is the much slower rise in cases among those 70 and older, an age group much more likely to be vaccinated. In the first year of the pandemic, Michiganders 70 and older accounted for 12% of cases on average. That’s plummeted to 4% in recent weeks.

The proportion of cases involving patients in their 60s also has dropped, from 12% during the first year of the pandemic to 9% in recent weeks.

Geographically, worst outbreaks are in the Thumb and stretch of northern Michigan

The top 10 counties in per-capita case counts since March 1, in order: Huron, Missaukee, Sanilac, Wexford, St. Clair, Otsego, Lapeer, Macomb, Tuscola and Roscommon.

Huron, Sanilac, St. Clair, Lapeer and Tuscola are in the Thumb region and adjoin Macomb County.

Missaukee, Wexford, Otsego and Roscommon are in the northern Lower Peninsula and include the cities of Cadillac, Grayling and McBain.

Below is a map that shows per-capita case rates so far for the month of March. You can put your cursor over a county to see the underlying data. (Can’t see them map? Click here.)

Those top two regions are among the most politically conservative in the state. In the 2021 election, 76% of Missaukee voters backed Donald Trump, the highest percentage in the state.

On average, 67% in those four northern Michigan counties voted for Trump, the same average who backed Trump in the Thumb region.

Macomb, which is Michigan’s third-most populated county, is easily most conservative of the three metro Detroit counties, which also include Wayne and Oakland. About 53% of Macomb voters backed Trump in 2021.

However, the correlation between partisanship and case counts tends to fall apart outside of the highest-ranked counties.

Washtenaw, Michigan’s most liberal county and home of University of Michigan, ranks 48th among the 83 counties in new case counts during March, and Wayne, the second-most liberal, ranks 26th.

The bottom 10 counties in new case counts: Iron, Alger, Luce, Baraga, Menominee, Schoolcraft, Dickinson, Marquette, all in the Upper Pennisula, and Ogemaw and Gratiot in the northeast Lower Peninsula.

In raw numbers, metro Detroit -- Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, which have 39% of the state’s population - account for 44% of the new cases this month.

Thumb region has highest increase in positivity rates

Huron and Sanilac counties, both in the Thumb, rank No. 1 and 2 in percentile increases in positivity rates on coronavirus diagnostic tests so far in the month of March.

And Tuscola, Lapeer and St. Clair, which also are in that region also rank in the top 10, along with Macomb, Otsego, Oscoda, Crawford and Wexford.

Five counties -- all in the Upper Peninsula -- have seen their positivity rates drop this month: Delta, Schoolcraft, Luce, Baraga and Keweenaw.

The map below is shaded by changes in seven-day average positivity rates on March 1 compared to March 26. That shows us where case rates have increased the fastest. (Can’t see the map? Click here.)

Hospitalization rate highest in southwest Michigan

On Friday, 1,940 people were hospitalized in Michigan for COVID-19, up from 824 on March 1.

The number in intensive care units has increased from 195 to 394 during that time.

Southwest Michigan has the highest per-capita rate of hospitalizations, although metro Detroit easily has the highest raw numbers.

The breakdown of hospitalizations as of Friday by region:

  • Region 5 (southwest Michigan): 124 hospitalized, rate of 308.7 per million residents.
  • Region 2N (Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties): 632 hospitalized, rate of 275.9 per million residents.
  • Region 3 (Flint-Saginaw region): 241 hospitalized, rate of 250.2 per million residents.
  • Region 7 (northern Lower Peninsula): 78 hospitalized, rate of 234.6 per million residents.
  • Region 2S (Wayne, Washtenaw and Monroe counties): 527 hospitalized, rate of 232.4 per million residents.
  • Region 1 (Lansing-Jackson region): 178 hospitalized, rate of 160 per million residents.
  • Region 6 (Grand Rapids region): 131 hospitalized, rate of 87.1 per million residents.
  • Region 8 (Upper Peninsula): 11 hospitalized, rate of 45.0 per million residents.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Health and Hospital Association says the age composition of COVID-19 patients has shifted, with a higher proportion of younger adults in hospitals. That reflects the success of widespread vaccination among senior citizens.

The graphic below shows the age breakdown for new COVID-19 hospital admissions on Thursday, March 25, compared to the surge this past fall/winter.

Who and where Michigan’s coronavirus surge is hitting hardest

Chart courtesy of Michigan Health & Hospital Association.

Too soon to know impact on death count

The state has reported 492 deaths so far in March compared to 925 in February.

However, deaths are a lagging factor when it comes to coronavirus metrics. It takes several weeks after an increase in cases to see an increase in deaths, and a month or two to know the full impact of a surge on the death count.

Deaths were trending down for the first half of March. But in the last 10 days, the seven-day average number of deaths reported daily has increased from 15 to 22. Considering the spike in hospitalizations last week, that daily average is likely to rise.

Still, age is the biggest risk factor for dying of coronavirus, and almost two-thirds of people age 65 and over have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Health experts are hopeful that high vaccination rate will blunt the increase in deaths from this surge.

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