TRAVERSE CITY — A statewide order to stay home amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan should be expected to be extended this week, while the state’s known cases climbed beyond 17,000 with at least 727 deaths.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday said the public can expect the additional stay-home order to be announced this week, as her initial order intended to slow the spread of the disease was set to expire on Monday, April 13 — merely days away. She did not reveal by how long the stay-home order would be extended.
“We are looking at an additional order looking at staying home and staying safe,” Whitmer said during a Monday morning press conference.
The governor said predictive models currently show the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan may not arrive until the end of April or early in May. She said aggressive efforts to reduce the spread of the contagious illness must therefore continue.
“We are not close to the apex yet,” Whitmer said.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, confirmed Whitmer’s statement, but said that as more daily test results are factored into epidemiological equations, the better predictive models will become.
In northwest Lower Michigan, health officials have so far identified 104 cases of the disease and recorded 11 deaths.
The most number of cases are 26 in Otsego County, followed by 14 in Emmet County and 13 in Grand Traverse County.
There are single-digit cases in the remaining counties across the region.
Health officials in Grand Traverse County have recorded three COVID-19 deaths, the most in the area. There also have been two deaths each in Emmet, Kalkaska and Otsego counties, and single deaths in Cheboygan and Missaukee counties.
Health officials across the region have in recent days identified positive cases of the respiratory illness that were contracted in the community, not from travel or contact with a person who tested positive before them. That indicates the virus is in the community and anyone can contract it.
The first identified community-acquired case in Grand Traverse County was found March 30. Known potential transmission sites were also identified in recent weeks in both Gaylord and Traverse City.
“We can’t contain it, but we can mitigate it, which means we can minimize the impacts to our community,” said Michelle Klein, personal health director for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.
The best way to do that, she said, is to reduce the spread of the disease by staying home and away from other people. She also said wearing a mask — even a non-medical, homemade, fabric one — is recommended.
“If everybody wears a mask it helps protect everyone a bit more,” Klein said. “It can’t hurt. It can only help.”
Two new cases reported among Leelanau County residents involved exposure happening downstate, she said, but the people live in the same household and quarantined themselves, never circulating within the local community.
But limits remain on who gets tested because of supply shortages. Only those sick enough to be hospitalized, medical workers and first responders with symptoms and high-risk people with symptoms are even being tested right now, according to current state rules.
Klein said that widespread lack of available testing is frustrating for both the public and health officials.
She said one negative ramification of the testing shortage is public health workers not being able to do contact tracing for everyone who has the disease. That means potential disease carriers without symptoms may never be identified and in turn never completely isolate themselves, Klein said.
“We have to assume it’s out in our communities. It’s in our grocery stores and our gas stations and everywhere people go,” she said.
Khaldun on Monday talked about how Michigan’s capacity for testing has greatly expanded in the last month and especially within the last 10 days. At the start of the crisis only one state laboratory was processing tests while now there are 15 such labs among public, commercial and hospital facilities, she said.
Whitmer, however, bluntly spoke about the disease’s unknown presence in Michigan before testing ever began, along with the problem of ongoing lack of available testing supplies.
“The fact of the matter is COVID-19 has been spreading in our state for a lot longer than we’ve ever detected it,” Whitmer said. “We’ve never had enough tests. We still don’t have enough to do robust testing.”
And Michigan is not alone in that struggle, the governor said, as other states are in the same predicament.
On March 11, when there were only two positively identified cases of the disease in downstate communities, Khaldun told reporters the state did have the capacity to process COVID-19 tests at that time, but underscored Michigan’s continued dependence on federal supplies.
Whitmer said Monday that state researchers were working on a test for the novel coronavirus’ antibodies. It may help those who were unable to be tested while ill learn whether they did, in fact, contract the disease and recover.
Khaldun said more study is needed to determine whether people with immunity from the virus’ antibodies this year will continue to be immune from the disease, should COVID-19 still be a concern next year.
Meanwhile, the state for the first time on Monday made information public about hospitalizations, though called it incomplete.
By Saturday, there were at least 3,768 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 across the state — 89 percent in southeast Michigan. Nearly 1,400 were using ventilators to help them breathe, Khaldun said.