Michigan COVID-19 infections are falling - but the state still owns nation's highest rate

Michigan is keeping up with the country's vaccine pace and is experiencing one of the largest declines in new cases.

But it still has the worst infection rate in the U.S.

The state is reporting 36 cases per 100,000 people, which is well above the next-highest state and more than double the U.S. average.

The state was struck with a Michigan-only surge that drove up cases not experienced in any other state. A combination of factors from new variants to cold temperatures resulted in tens of thousands of new infections and hundreds of deaths, even as vaccines became widely available.

The conundrum forced the governor to plead with groups to stay indoors and asked schools to resume virtual learning as hospitalizations in kids rose to their highest rates.

RELATED: Detroit now paying $50 to anyone who convinces someone to get a vaccine

The state now has around 2,850 people hospitalized with coronavirus. The test positivity average reported by the state remains at 11%. Both of these rates are well above the average that public health experts are comfortable with.

Even so, Michigan has eyes on opening up - envisioning the summer without masks and with larger gatherings.

Yesterday, the state eased rules on face coverings that no longer be mandated wearing them outside in groups of 100 people. It also will no longer require high school athletes to get tested if they are asymptomatic and have been vaccinated.

Michigan is also creeping steadily toward its first vaccine-linked milestone: 55%. At that point, office workspaces will be permitted to allow employees to return, essential or not.

But the rate of vaccinations - especially first-dose vaccines - has steadily fallen over the days. Concerns over symptoms and misplaced fears about the Johnson & Johnson shot have contributed to an overall decline in administration as those that wanted to get the shot finished getting them and those that were more hesitant didn't.

RELATED: Michigan lifts mask order for outdoor gatherings of less than 100

Cities are beginning to deploy incentives and methods for boosting rates. Detroit is paying anyone that can convince someone else to get the shot $50 per convert. It's also knocking on doors hoping to stem any fears.

In Macomb County, public health officials from different stripes came together to urge their residents to get the shot.

"Now is the time, please think about your families when you make these choices," county prosecutor Pete Lucido warned alongside Executive Mark Hackel.