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State surpasses 16,000 COVID-19 deaths, as cases continue to rise

3D rendering of coronavirus
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The death toll from COVID-19 in Michigan officially surpassed 16,000 thousand today. That’s as the state races to vaccinate more people while the number of confirmed infections rise, and the number of people hospitalized because of the virus is at its highest level since January.

While the expanded availability has given a sign of hope for many in the state, public health leaders warn the risks of the virus haven’t gone away just yet.

“We have a lot more vaccine in the groups that are most likely to have very severe outcomes, says Emily Martin, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “But COVID can be very serious for younger ages too. I’m especially worried about this, like 50 to 65 year old group that doesn’t have a ton of vaccination yet but can have very severe outcomes.”

Martin was a guest on Stateside Friday.

Everyone over the age of 50 in Michigan is now eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines, but only about 36% of those age 50-64 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state’s dashboard. More than 60% of those above the age of 65 have gotten a vaccination, according to the state.

The availability of the vaccine continues to expand statewide. On April 5, anyone over the age of 16 in the state is eligible to receive the vaccine. But that doesn’t mean they will receive the vaccine right away. And as the push to vaccinate more Michigan residents ramps up, cases are also rising.

Martin says the rise of new variants of the virus, which can spread more quickly, increases the urgency of the vaccination push.

"It's like you're running a race with somebody and all of a sudden the other person starts running 50% faster," Martin said on Stateside. "And so the goal is, we want to win the race. We want to get the virus low in the community as much as possible before that virus becomes replaced by that faster spreading variant of the virus." 

But as of Friday, there was no sign of the virus slowing down in Michigan. The state reported 5,030 new confirmed coronavirus cases Friday. The seven-day average of daily new cases in the state is now more than double what it was at the start of the month. On average, the state is seeing as many new infections as it was in early January.

Hospitalizations are also on the rise in the state, and the state’s main hospital association says they’re seeing an increase in younger patients.

Statewide data show K-12 schools arethe leading source of the state’s current outbreak numbers.

Martin noted on Stateside that the virus is also spreading through social gatherings, as more people want to get outside, and see friends after a year of restrictions.

“And I think the trick is going to be figuring out how to do that kind of connection that people are craving, but do it in ways that are safe enough so that we can ride out the next couple of months until the vaccine gets fully deployed,” Martin says.

Martin says it’s still important for people to wear masks in public, meet outside when possible, and not gather in large groups.

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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