There were 118,000 known cases of COVID-19 and nearly 4,300 deaths attributed to the coronavirus worldwide when the World Health Organization declared the novel virus a global pandemic March 11, 2020.
Almost a full year later, the state of Michigan alone has reported more than five times as many known infections, and more than three times as many fatalities linked to the novel virus that has altered life for everyone the last 12 months.
Michigan was an early hotspot in the spring as COVID-19 ripped through the Metro Detroit area, and again in the late fall and early winter when an even larger second wave hit the state as temperatures dropped and social gatherings moved indoors.
To date, there have been 596,054 confirmed cases in Michigan, plus an additional 60,018 probable cases. The state health department has reported 15,666 confirmed deaths linked to COVID-19, plus another 992 that were believed to be coronavirus deaths but without a PCR test to prove it.
While Michigan hasn’t been spared from the worldwide pain caused by the pandemic, it has fared better than elsewhere. The 10th-most populous state ranks 14th in total (confirmed and probable) cases, but 43rd in cases per 100,000 people.
In the last week, Michigan has averaged 1,191 new cases and 22 new deaths per day. It ranks 25th in the nation in new cases per capita, and 35th in new deaths during that time.
Below is a look back at the highs and lows of Michigan’s numbers over the past 12 months, and where we stand now entering year No. 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first wave
In March 2020, Michigan had one of the fastest accelerations of coronavirus transmission in the country. While the first two confirmed cases were reported March 10, health officials later determined through case investigation that at least 530 cases were active by that time.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed bars and restaurants March 16 and announced a stay-at-home order March 23. During that one-week stretch, Michigan’s daily average climbed from eight cases per day to 182.
The surge continued two weeks after the shutdown, peaking at 1,626 cases per day on April 7 before reports of new infections began to decline. Health officials believe there were more cases than reported at the time, but testing supplies were limited and thus asymptomatic cases weren’t likely to be discovered.
(The above chart shows Michigan’s 7-day rolling average of new confirmed coronavirus cases. You can put your cursor over a bar to see the number. You also can click on the option just below the headline to see the actual number of new cases reported by day.)
Michigan’s first wave resulted in 145 deaths reported per day at its peak on April 16. That average stayed above 100 per day until May 5, and above 50 per day until May 16.
In total, April 2020 accounted for 3,442 COVID-19 deaths – the worst month of the pandemic to date, and the deadliest month in Michigan of the century. That was due in part to the surge overwhelming hospitals, and the learning curve for health care workers to understand how best to treat the novel virus.
By June, Michigan went from being one of the highest states in coronavirus transmission to one of the lowest.
A bigger second wave
After a relatively quiet summer, the return of the academic year and reopening of more businesses brought an increase in cases to Michigan. Then, as temperatures got colder and gatherings moved indoors, the virus began to spread further.
On Oct. 1, Michigan’s seven-day average was up to 854 cases per day. Testing supplies were more readily available for this wave, thus health officials had a better grasp on the magnitude of the spread.
By the first days of November, the seven-day average for cases had more than tripled to 3,283, and the positive test rate had entered the double-digits for the first time. It would stay above 10% for 45 consecutive days, peaking at 16% in early December.
With the state’s average cases per day nearing 7,000, the health department announced a three-week shutdown of indoor dining at bars and restaurants, in-person learning at K-12 schools and colleges, and casinos, movie theaters and group fitness classes in mid-November. The shutdown would later be extended, with varying levels of closures, through the end of the year and into February as new cases, hospitalizations and deaths declined.
The interactive map below shows the cases per capita across Michigan’s 83 counties. Hover over a county to see its population data, how many COVID-19 cases it has reported and its cases per 100,000 residents. (Can’t see the map? Click here.)
Rising case levels put a strain on the state’s health care system, much like it did back in the spring. Hospitals saw nearly 4,000 patients statewide at one point in the first wave, before that number declined to about 300 during the summer. By Nov. 30, hospitals were treating more than 4,300 COVID-19 patients and feeling further exhaustion than the previous months.
Between Nov. 4 and Dec. 4, Michigan’s average deaths per day jumped from 19 to 104. Deaths per day stayed above 100 for weeks through the holiday season, before beginning a slow descent in the early months of 2021.
The interactive map below shows the deaths per capita across Michigan’s 83 counties. Hover over a county to see its population data, how many COVID-19 deaths it has reported and its deaths per 100,000 residents. (Can’t see the map? Click here.)
Hardest hit areas
Early in the pandemic, the Metro Detroit area was hardest hit by coronavirus outbreaks. As of April 30, the region of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties — home to 39% of the state’s population — combined for 71% of the state’s total cases and 81% of its COVID-19 deaths.
The three counties remain the state’s leaders, but they makeup a lower piece of the pie. Over 12 months, they account for 40% of the state’s confirmed cases and 52% of the confirmed deaths.
The top five counties for cases per capita were Dickinson, Branch, Iron, Kent and Delta counties. The five lowest were Chippewa, Luce, Mackinac, Schoolcraft and Lake counties.
Below is an online database that allows readers to look up any county to see the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by month. Note the cases for this dataset are recorded by disease onset, which means the numbers for February and March are incomplete because of the lag time between when people get first sick and a positive test result is recorded.
(Note: While Detroit’s numbers are broken out separately in this database, the Wayne County numbers include Detroit.)
As for the leaders in deaths per capita over 12 months, the top five counties were Baraga, Iron, Ontonagon, Bay and Saginaw. The five lowest were Luce, Alger, Mackinac, Crawford, and Mecosta counties.
Below is an online database that allows readers to look up any county to see the number of confirmed deaths cases by month. Note the cases for this dataset are recorded by disease onset, which means the numbers for February and March are incomplete because of the lag time between when people get first sick and a positive test result is recorded.
A deadly year
Looking at the raw numbers, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the deadliest event in Michigan history. It caused more deaths than the 1918 flu pandemic, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the AIDS epidemic.
In 2020 alone, the coronavirus accounted for 11,193 deaths, making it the No. 3 killer behind the usual leading suspects, heart disease and cancer. The outbreak paved the way for a new one-year high for Michigan with 115,334 deaths, which was a 19% increase from the year prior.
Not a single month in 2019 reached 9,000 total deaths. During the following year, there were six months that surpassed the milestone, led by April and December.
(The above chart shows Michigan’s 7-day rolling average of deaths involving confirmed coronavirus cases. You can put your cursor over a bar to see the number. You also can click on the option just below the headline to see the actual number of new deaths reported by day.)
Throughout the pandemic, Michigan has reported 16,658 confirmed and suspected deaths linked to COVID-19. It’s the 10th-highest total in the nation.
Not all cases of coronavirus infection are equal. Individuals with underlying health conditions and those 65 years and older have proven to be at higher risk of experiencing severe cases of COVID-19, though there have been exceptions.
Among the COVID-19 deaths, 73% were individuals 70 years or older, and 89% were 60 years or older. Men also accounted for slightly more deaths (53%) than women.
Deaths disproportionately hit the state’s Black and African American communities, accounting for 2,304 deaths per million people. That’s significantly higher than white residents (1,307 deaths per million), American Indiana/Alaska Native residents (755 per million), and Asian/Pacific Islander residents (465 per million).
Vaccines bring end into sight
Pfizer and Moderna’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccines provided a light at the end of the tunnel in mid-December when they received emergency use authorization from the FDA to begin administering shots in Michigan and across the country.
Distribution was slow out of the gate, but has ramped up over time. Furthering the effort was the addition of a third vaccine candidate — a one-dose shot developed by Johnson & Johnson — in late February.
To date, there have been 1,602,630 Michiganders who have received at least one dose of vaccine. More than 900,000 residents have received their second of two doses.
Residents 65 years and older have received 53% of vaccine doses thus far as one of the highest priority groups, especially those who live in long-term care facilities. The state says its gotten at least one shot to 50% of its 65 to 74-year-old population, and 53% of its 75+ population.
The state’s demographic data by race is largely incomplete with 37% of shots going to individuals with race “unknown,” according to state data. Nearly 49% of shots have gone to white residents, compared to about 4% to Black residents.
However, early data shows that largely white communities in Northern Michigan have received more vaccine per capita than areas like Detroit and Genesee County, which have higher minority populations. The state says it’s working to remove barriers to vaccines, reduce vaccine hesitancy, and provide more complete data.
Below is a chart that depicts the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered per week in Michigan. Each point provides the total shots administered and the week-ending date.
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