3 days, 3 virus deaths
APS extends online learning, Whitmer may, too
ALPENA — For the third day in a row, health officials reported today that an Alcona County resident has died after being infected with the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Alpena Public Schools announced via Facebook this evening that remote learning for all students will be extended through Dec. 23, when schools are scheduled to begin winter break. The district moved kids online Nov. 20 and students were expected to return next week.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who last month ordered high schools and colleges to learn online until next week, said today her administration may extend portions of a three-week partial shutdown of schools and businesses next week because of the “sheer volume” of coronavirus cases in Michigan.
The Democratic governor said no decision had been made, but that hospitals can’t be overrun with COVID-19 patients. Although the infection curve has leveled off, it is a “dangerous moment,” she said. The state reported 175 additional deaths, including 63 in the most recent 24-hour period and 112 from a records review. That total was the fifth-most during the pandemic, Whitmer said.
Alpena County has now reported six virus-related deaths, up from three as of Monday.
The interactive graphic below shows active infections in Northeast Michigan over time. Story continues below graphic.
The most recent Alpena County death, its 17th, was reported on Monday. With counts from Presque Isle and Montmorency counties included, 28 Northeast Michiganders have died since the pandemic hit Michigan in the spring.
After a one-day dip in daily new infections on Wednesday, with only eight new confirmed infections reported, today local health officials reported 33 newly infected Northeast Michiganders as hospitalizations related to the virus continue to rise.
Wednesday’s low number may be explained by a reduction in tests performed over the Thanksgiving weekend, said Cathy Goike, spokeswoman for District Health Department No. 4, which serves Northeast Michigan.
On average, it takes two to three days for test results to become available, Goike said. Tuesday’s low number would reflect tests administered on Thanksgiving or the day after.
Alpena Public Schools said online it decided to continue remote learning to provide the most consistent education for students and after considering expected trends in COVID-19 infections and related quarantine orders, the post states.
Face-to-face instruction will tentatively resume on Jan. 4.
New infections reported today include 23 Alpena County residents, one Presque Isle County resident, five Montmorency County residents, and four Alcona County residents.
Flip through the interactive timeline below to see how the coronavirus spread through Northeast Michigan. Story continues below the timeline.
That means that, as of today, 1,075 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected, meaning they’d been confirmed infected with COVID-19 but have not recovered or died, and could infect others.
As of today, 22 COVID-19 patients, six of whom were in intensive care, were hospitalized at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, according to state data. The Alpena hospital was 43% full.
As of today, 133 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection across the state-designated, 18-county health care region that includes Alpena, Presque Isle, and Montmorency counties, according to state data.
Since the pandemic hit Michigan in mid-March, 1,324 Northeast Michiganders have been infected, according to local public health agencies. Of those, 221 have recovered and 28 have died.
“As we get a few more days of information under our belts, we’ll be in a much stronger position to really assess if there are some things that maybe are safer to do,” Whitmer said during a news conference in which she reported continued progress addressing virus-related racial disparities. “But if we have to make some extensions of the current pause in some realms, that is sadly possible because of just the sheer volume of COVID” cases.
The state health department’s order — aimed at indoor gatherings — closed high schools to in-person instruction, stopped organized sports, prohibited indoor restaurant dining and closed various entertainment businesses such as movie theaters and bowling alleys. It will end late Tuesday unless extended, which was commonplace for stay-at-home and other restrictions earlier in the pandemic.
The interactive chart below shows cumulative infections, recoveries and deaths in Northeast Michigan over time. Story continues below graphic.
A governor-created task force on COVID-19 racial disparities released an interim report showing that Black residents continue to no longer be disproportionately infected and killed by the virus like they were in the spring. It confirms preliminary findings from late September.
The case rate per 1 million Black residents was 59 in September and October, down from 176 in March and April. The death rate dropped substantially, from 21.7 per 1 million to one per 1 million.
The next steps include tackling disparities in internet access, increasing enrollment in health insurance plans, expanding mobile testing sites in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Flint and Muskegon, and sending a letter to medical providers about disparities affecting patients. The testing sites will be able to offer other health services, including vaccine distribution.
“The work is not done,” said the task force’s chairman, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II.
A Republican lawmaker pressed a top state official to lift the order closing all high schools to in-person instruction, saying she thinks the decision should be made at the local level.
“Let the parents decide. Let the school systems decide whether they’re open or whether they’re closed,” Sen. Kim LaSata, of Berrien County’s Bainbridge Township, told Robert Gordon, the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, during a joint House-Senate hearing. She said teachers who fear catching the potentially deadly disease should be replaced and she claimed that teens “might not be around each other in school now, but they’re around each other elsewhere.”
High schools and colleges are two weeks into a minimum three-week period in which they can only provide virtual classes. Before then, they had the option of onsite or remote instruction similarly to K-8 schools, which are not covered by the directive.
Gordon said there is significantly more risk of the virus spreading in high schools than in lower grades, and the educational loss from online learning is more detrimental to younger students than high schoolers.
“I fully agree with you that reopening schools should be our priority, and we are eager to do all we can to reopen schools,” he said, urging GOP legislators to reverse course and codify a mask requirement into law. Earlier in the meeting, he said: “The only way we will get folks comfortable statewide with reopening schools is if we get the virus under better control.”
One in every 198 people in Michigan tested positive in the past week. The seven-day average of new daily cases, 7,208, was down slightly from the 7,312 two weeks ago. The positivity rate, 13.7%, was up from 11.6% on Nov. 18. The death rate was 96 per day, an increase from 62.4 over the same period.
Nearly 4,300 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms today, including about 500 on ventilators, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
A top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, said the governor should release virus metrics Michigan must reach so restaurants know when to start preparing to reopen for dine-in customers. He urged her to “focus on addressing the bad actors” — businesses violating health and safety requirements — “rather than continue to impose mandates that threaten the livelihood of an entire industry.”
Whitmer has said the two most important metrics are the positivity rate and hospital capacity but has not specified specific targets, frustrating the business community.
Gordon said the administration was actively discussing specific metrics but added that other states like Illinois have abandoned the approach. “It’s very hard to predict the course of the pandemic,” he said. “It’s very hard to know how different variables will combine.”
COVID-19 tests scheduled
* WHAT: Drive-thru tests for COVID-19 infection
* WHEN: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 10
* WHERE: Thunder Bay Transportation Building, 3859 U.S.-23 N., Alpena
* WHO: Any Michigan resident, regardless of symptoms
* COST: Free. No appointment or doctor order required
This story was updated on Dec. 4 to reflect that Cathy Goike is the spokeswoman for District Health Department No. 4.