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Going out more? You're not alone: state's back to pre-pandemic travel levels

Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

Michigan's one of just 11 states where COVID cases are trending up this week, with an average of just over 2,000 new cases confirmed every day. Although, bear in mind that several states that are declining, are just coming off big outbreaks. That comes as the more easily-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant continues to spread, and people have returned to pre-pandemic levels of daily travel and non-essential trips.

Those findings come from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, which analyzed data from Unacast and the Bureau of Transportation. 

"The percent of stay-at-home levels has recently declined, to be very similar to where we were pre-COVID, and the number of trips that are taken each day has increased," state epidemiologist Sarah Lyon-Callo said at a press briefing Wednesday. 

Maybe it's the better weather, more districts returning to in-person school, vaccine optimism, or pandemic fatigue. But case investigators say people are reporting more contacts with others, and fewer of them say they quarantined when their symptoms began. 

New cases are still 80% lower than they were in the November surge. But it means the nice low plateau we hit in February is really reversing.

“This is all a balancing act,” Lyon-Callo said.  “And while we're getting more and more vaccine on board, which will reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases, it's important... not to give in to covid fatigue. So we need to push harder on masking and social distancing. ...We want to make sure that people are moving activities outdoors whenever possible, and we want to promote the use of antigen testing.”

Antigen, aka “rapid” tests, could enable fast, widespread screening as the state reopens. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is providing them to K-12 classrooms and athletics, colleges and universities, and long-term care centers as part of a series of pilot programs.

State and local health officials have identified more than 160 ongoing outbreaks tied to K-12 schools.

Credit MDHHS
Analysis of data from Unacast and the Bureau of Transportation by the University of Michigan School of Public Health shows Michiganders are traveling, and making non-essential trips, at pre-pandemic levels.

“The classroom environment itself has not been a strong signal for outbreaks,” Lyon-Callo said. “It tends to be more the activities associated with schools, and including sports, but not limited to sports.”

Meanwhile, 727 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been identified across dozens of counties. Of those, 420 are associated with the Michigan Department of Corrections, according to an MDHHS spokesperson. One case of the B.1.351 variant has been detected in Jackson County. 

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Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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