With cases ‘skyrocketing’ across the state, officials warn about strain on resources

Thursday, November 12, 2020 - 4:24pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference Thursday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference Thursday. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Michigan Executive Office

With COVID-19 spreading rapidly across Michigan, state and local officials are warning residents to prepare for a situation as dire as the one at the start of the pandemic, when Detroit was a major hotspot.

Now, the entire nation is seeing the virus spread rapidly and many hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed as resources are stretched thin. At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this has been the “worst week” of COVID-19 for the state so far. 

“This is the moment that medical experts have been warning us about and dreading since the beginning of this pandemic,” Whitmer said. “Our case numbers are skyrocketing here in Michigan.”

Whitmer also said she is “strongly considering” taking action to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

In October, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against Whitmer, saying she did not have the authority to extend executive orders related to public health precautions past April 30. To cover gaps caused by the ruling, local and state agencies issued their own orders to enforce social distancing and other mandates. 

On Thursday, Michigan set its latest daily record for COVID-19 cases when the state announced 6,940 new cases and 45 deaths.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health, echoed Whitmer’s alarm.

“Things are looking very grim with COVID-19 in our state right now,” Khaldun said. “… There’s no part of the state that is spared.”

Khaldun said there are 747 active COVID-19 outbreaks in Michigan right now, which is the highest number since the state started tracking them and 25% more than one week ago.

Whitmer said she and her team were watching trends in the state closely.

“Right now, my team and I are following the numbers closely,” Whitmer said. “We are strongly considering all actions to keep Michiganders safe.”

In Washtenaw County, local health officials are balancing strain on their resources with the need to limit the spread of the virus. 

In a Thursday press release, the Washtenaw County Health Department noted that COVID-19 investigations and contact tracing are likely to be delayed with cases and hospitalizations “growing exponentially.”

“With the surge in cases and related hospitalizations, we cannot get to all situations as quickly as we’d like,” Washtenaw County health officer Jimena Loveluck said. 

WCHD is now prioritizing case investigations for children, seniors and high-risk individuals. University of Michigan students are not specifically listed as a prioritized group unless they meet one of the other specifications.

Loveluck said all individuals who test positive or have been potentially exposed should isolate and quarantine. 

“Don’t wait for a call from the Health Department,” she said. “At this point, we all know we should be staying away from others if you tested positive, have symptoms, are waiting on test results, or are a close contact.”

A close contact is someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes, with or without a mask. People are considered contagious two days before they see symptoms or before their positive test if they are asymptomatic.

Close contacts should quarantine for two weeks. People who have been exposed but do not have symptoms should wait at least five days before testing, according to WCHD. Even people who test negative should continue to quarantine for the full 14 days.

Washtenaw County saw 133 new cases and nine hospitalizations in the last 24 hours. The majority of cases are no longer associated with young adults.

On Oct. 20, the WCHD issued a stay-in-place order for University of Michigan undergraduate students in response to rising cases at the University and a sharp increase in quarantine housing occupancy. The order, which expired Nov. 3, led to a decline in cases associated with University students.

Washtenaw County’s positivity rates remained high overall. According to the Thursday press release, over the past week, the average number of new cases per day was 97, a sharp increase from the 35 per day observed during the second week of October. 

While the mandate targeted younger students, several COVID-19 clusters involving professional and graduate students have been identified. The cases stem from social gatherings during Halloween week, according to a Nov. 10 update to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The University has asked students heading home for Thanksgiving break to get tested for COVID-19 before leaving campus. In an announcement Friday, the University asked all students who do not need to live on campus to remain home during the winter semester due to rising cases nationwide and outbreaks at the University this fall. In an email to the University community, University President Mark Schlissel said the fall semester resulted in an “unacceptable level” of COVID-19 cases among students.

The University is offering departure testing through its Community Sampling & Tracking program, according to an email sent to students enrolled in the program. Asymptomatic individuals without a close-contact exposure to COVID-19 qualify for testing under this program. 

“The University of Michigan advises all students to practice enhanced social distancing and be tested before they leave campus to promote safety by reducing the likelihood of students infected with COVID-19 returning to their permanent residences and surrounding communities,” the email said. 

Students can sign up for a testing slot here.

Managing News Editor Leah Graham contributed reporting.

Daily News Editor Liat Weinstein can be reached at weinsl@umich.edu. Daily Staff Reporter John Grieve can be reached at jgrieve@umich.edu


The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.