While most of the U.S. is starting to see the end of the pandemic growing nearer as millions are vaccinated against COVID-19 each day, Michigan is dealing with another overwhelming surge in new cases.
The state currently has the highest number of new COVID-19 infections per capita in the U.S., with 398 cases for every 100,000 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Cases have increased by 124% in the last two weeks, and Michigan is reporting an average of more than 5,600 new infections a day, a major jump from February when cases hovered around 1,000 a day, according to The New York Times.
"It is absolutely alarming," Emily Toth Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told the Times. "Looking at numbers yesterday felt like a gut punch. We're going to have to go through this surge, and all this hard work again, to get the numbers down."
Cases are also ticking up around the U.S. after two and a half months of decline, but no where as severely as Michigan. And while deaths and hospitalizations have remained low in the U.S. as a whole, those numbers are soaring in Michigan. Deaths have increased 56% in the last two weeks, while hospitalizations have jumped up 125%. More than 2,350 people are currently hospitalized in Michigan with COVID-19, and the Henry Ford health system had to reinstate a limit on the number of visitors to their hospitals while they try to manage the surge.
State health experts speculated that the more contagious variants now circulating in the area could be the reason why cases have increased.
"It seems like we've done things in a measured way, so what the heck is happening? I think we've been asking ourselves that a lot," Dr. Andrew Jameson, the medical director of infection prevention and control at Mercy Health, told Fox17. "I do think it's a few different variables. I think the number one variable probably is the B.1.1.7 variant just really taking hold, and we have seen this spread rapidly. This particular variant really has the ability to latch on better to our receptors. So, it is more potent in terms of its ability to transmit."
Physicians with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services noted that people appear to be skipping the health precautions they had kept up before, such as social distancing and mask wearing. The majority of new cases are in younger patients, they've observed, particularly those in youth sports.
"We are especially seeing outbreaks in youth athletics and in high school-age adolescents," Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, senior public health physician at MDHHS, told Fox17. "Some of these seem to be related not to activities on the field, not to transmission on the field or in classrooms but actually to social gatherings and social events that are happening around sports."
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged residents to take health precautions.
"We have to keep watching these numbers. We have to keep doing our part, masking up, washing our hands, and social distancing. These are all really important," she said on CNN Wednesday.
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