Michigan joined the ranks of nearly a third of the states in the U.S. with substantial community transmission for COVID-19 on Wednesday, with more than half of the state’s 83 counties now falling into the categories of substantial or high levels of community transmission.
Pretty much every county in southern Michigan was listed as having substantial community transmission for the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 tracker.
Last week, the CDC updated its guidance that even vaccinated people in areas of substantial and high transmission should wear masks in indoor public spaces and be tested if they are exposed to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of the coronavirus.
But, currently, there are no plans for a statewide mask requirement or other mandates.
“There are no plans for statewide mask requirements, gathering limitations, or vaccination verification,” Bobby Leddy, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s press secretary, said on Wednesday. “We now have three free, safe, and effective vaccines, which studies have shown are nearly 100% successful at preventing hospitalization or death.
“That’s why we are encouraging Michiganders to get vaccinated so we don’t see a surge like other states with low vaccination rates are experiencing right now. The COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective precaution that people can take to protect themselves and their families, and help us beat this virus once and for all.”
Michigan had been one of only a handful of states holding their own with only moderate community transmission, along with Vermont and Maine. But it was teetering toward the next level — substantial — as the delta variant of the virus continued bearing down on the country, and case and positivity rates, along with hospitalizations ticked up in the Mitten state.
Now, only Vermont had Maine remain in moderate community transmission, per a map on the CDC’s tracker, while 34 states in the West, middle of the country, Midwest and South have high community transmission for the virus.
Michigan joined Washington D.C. and 14 other states, including Ohio, with substantial community transmission. Several of its neighbors in the Midwest — Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin — are faring worse and are in high community transmission.
The CDC map also lists 44 counties in Michigan with substantial or high community transmission levels for the time period of July 28 through Tuesday.
Thirty-seven counties fall into the substantial community transmission level, including four in the Upper Peninsula: Delta, Dickinson, Gogebic and Menominee.
The remaining 33 counties are in the lower peninsula and include Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. The others are: Allegan, Barry, Calhoun, Cass, Clare, Clinton, Crawford, Eaton, Grand Traverse, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lake, Leelanau, Lenawee, Livingston, Mason, Midland, Monroe, Muskegon, Ogemaw, Presque Isle, Saginaw, Shiawassee, St. Joseph, Tuscola, Van Buren and Washtenaw.
Seven counties — Alpena, Branch, Charlevoix, Huron, Iosco, Kalkaska and Montmorency — have high community transmission, per the CDC tracker map.
A substantial transmission level also triggers a new CDC eviction moratorium in several counties that weren’t covered when the ban was announced Tuesday, including Wayne and Washtenaw. All 44 counties are covered by the eviction ban.
Tenants in those counties who meet income requirements, face a loss of income, are trying to pay rent and submit a declaration form to their landlord are covered by the moratorium.
Earlier Wednesday, when Washtenaw County was still in moderate transmission level, the health department said it “strongly recommends masking for everyone in indoor, public spaces” and said anyone eligible for vaccination should get inoculated as soon as possible. Anyone age 12 and older can receive the COVID vaccine.
“Additional precautions are needed, and we must take them seriously,” Washtenaw County Health Officer Jimena Loveluck said in a release on the health department’s website. “We know how to slow the spread of illness.”
She added: “It is incredibly frustrating to be facing another wave of COVID. At the same time, we are optimistic that vaccinations will continue to be effective at preventing severe illness or death. Vaccinations can change what we see in the coming weeks drastically – but only if we use them and all of our prevention tools effectively.”
The county health department said recommendations “should be taken seriously during a pandemic and without the need for additional state or local orders.”
Last week, Whitmer said her administration was prepared to fight the latest COVID battle in the same way it did in the spring when Michigan became the nation’s worst pandemic hot spot: pleading with residents to wear masks, get tested and, most importantly, get vaccinated.
They were not ready to mandate masks or vaccines, despite similar efforts by President Joe Biden.
The U.S. Department of Defense is looking into how and when it will add the COVID vaccination to the list of required vaccinations for the military, Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a briefing Monday.
He said federal government employees will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Those who do not or who are not vaccinated will be required to mask; socially distance; get tested once or twice a week, and generally not be allowed to travel for work.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it is requiring COVID vaccinations for health care personnel who work in or visit Veterans Administration facilities, falling in line with dozens of health care systems around the country, including a half-dozen in Michigan mandating the vaccines for their workers.
When asked about a mask mandate in Michigan, state health department spokesperson Chelsea Wuth said Tuesday: “The CDC recommends that everyone wear a mask in indoor public settings during times of substantial or high transmission. We have made great strides in vaccination rates, but given the presence of the Delta variant in Michigan, we remain concerned about the continued increase in COVID-19 cases we are experiencing. We have shared this guidance with our public health partners across the state.
“The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is our best defense against the virus, and the way we are going to end this pandemic. (The state health department) urges all eligible Michiganders to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
More than 5.1 million Michiganders, or 63.8% of the population age 16 and older, have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine as of Tuesday, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard.
Through Tuesday, 58.5% of residents age 12 and older in Michigan had received at least one dose of vaccine and 54.1% were fully vaccinated, according to the data.
Federal officials say the delta variant is the dominant strain in the U.S. and they are concerned about the rise in COVID cases being driven by the variant.
They also say the COVID vaccines offer strong protection against the delta variant and help prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. The majority of those hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday identified 233 cases of the delta variant in 39 counties — almost half the counties in the state — as well as the city of Detroit. Sixteen cases involve out-of-state residents.
The total number of identified delta variant cases was up by 51 cases from state data released Friday. MDHHS releases variant data twice a week.
But it’s hard to get a real-time snapshot of just how prevalent the strain is because only a small number of coronavirus test samples underwent whole genome sequencing to determine if they are variant cases.
“We have variant results from labs that are sequencing a subset of their tests. We report out on results identifying variants of concern. It may take up to two weeks for a variant to be sequenced after a positive COVID-19 test,” Wuth said.
She said officials don’t know what percentage are sequenced as outside labs only report on identified variants; and MDHHS provides results as soon as they are reported.
Wuth said there isn’t a standard or requirement of how many samples should be sequenced for a variant and some labs are unable to sequence.
“As our ability to provide impactful public health guidance and response hinges on our understanding of the variant infections in our communities, MDHHS recently sent a letter to public health and medical providers urging them to increase the amount of samples they are submitting for sequencing,” she said.
On Tuesday, the state reported 2,605 new cases for a four-day period, about 651 cases per day. The seven-day case rate per 100,000 residents in Michigan is 56.7, and the seven-day positivity rate is 5% to 7.9%, according to the CDC’s tracker.
Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for the Henry Ford Health System, said during a briefing Wednesday that hospitalizations are up 35% statewide over the last two weeks.
He said 48 patients are hospitalized with the virus at five Henry Ford Health System hospitals. Three of the patients had been inoculated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and while they have respiratory symptoms, none are in the intensive care unit, he said.
Munkarah said after having been through three surges in Michigan, no one wants to see a fourth surge, which can be curtailed. He said health care workers are exhausted and frustrated because people are refusing the vaccine, then becoming sick and in some cases dying. He also encouraged people to start wearing masks again.
On Monday, Beaumont Health had 64 patients hospitalized for the virus in its hospitals. Of those patients, three were vaccinated while the remaining 61 were not, said Dr. Joel Fishbain, medical director for infection prevention at Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to Biden on COVID-19, said breakthrough infections are expected and usually asymptomatic. He said as of July 26, the CDC had received 6,587 reports of breakthrough infections that resulted in hospitalization or deaths among 163 million fully vaccinated people.
“That is a percentage of 0.01% or less,” he said.
On Monday, the U.S. hit the 70% mark for adult Americans age 18 and older who have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to federal officials and the CDC.
Starting Wednesday, employees at General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis were to start wearing masks regardless of their vaccination status in all work sites; and they were being encouraged to get a COVID vaccine.
The auto companies are being added to the growing list of businesses either requiring or recommending that people wear masks, even if they are fully vaccinated. Leaders in some cities and states also are going to require government workers be vaccinated or regularly tested.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for workers and customers at indoor dining, indoor gyms and indoor concerts and performances in the city.
But COVID can spread even at outdoor events.
MDHHS said Monday at least 16 cases of the virus are being associated with the Muskegon Bike Time motorcycle event held July 15-18 in west Michigan.
That was the second event this summer the state health department reported as having a COVID outbreak.
On July 24, it reported at least 17 cases of the coronavirus connected to the Faster Horses Festival at the Michigan International Speedway in Lenawee County. Various media reports indicate that the case count from that three-day country music festival has grown.
“We continue to see outbreaks of COVID-19 in Michigan, including outbreaks involving the more transmissible delta variant,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and MDHHS chief deputy for health, said Monday. “Our best protection against the virus is the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. I urge all eligible Michiganders to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Staff writers Dave Boucher and Nushrat Rahman contributed to this report.
Contact Christina Hall: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to the Free Press.