(FOX 2) - Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rolled out a plan to re-engage the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan, called the MI Safe Start Plan, has six phases and we're currently in Phase 3.
Many are wondering now, is Michigan approaching Phase 4? What will it take to progress?
Phase 3 is the "flattening" phase, which means daily new cases and deaths are relatively constant but transmission rates have fallen to manageable levels. According to Gov. Whitmer's plan, Michigan will move into Phase 4, the "improving" phase, when the number of new cases and deaths has decreased for a period of time, and when new outbreaks can be quickly identified and contained.
Moving into Phase 4 would mean more lower-risk businesses can open, like retail and office spaces. Dining-in at restaurants won't be allowed until Phase 5 under her plan.
WHEN CAN WE MOVE INTO PHASE 4?
Gov. Whitmer says the following factors will determine moving into Phase 4:
- Cases and deaths are declining more sharply, percent positivity decreasing
- Healthcare system capacity continues to strengthen
- Robust testing, contact tracing and containment protocols in place
"When the numbers continue to look good and we don't have a spike or growth in a certain area that causes us concern there's community spread, then we'll take that next step," Gov. Whitmer told us in an interview Thursday.
So where is Michigan at with all of those factors? Are we anywhere near approaching Phase 4?
DECLINE OF NEW CASES AND DEATH
The number of new daily cases and deaths certainly appears to be on the decline in Michigan, and the percent positivity also seems to be decreasing as well.
On Wednesday, during a press briefing, the state's medical leader Dr. Joneigh Khaldul said that since March, when the outbreak began, Michigan has averaged an 18.1% positive rate in COVID-19 tests. Last Sunday, though, on May 10 Dr. Khaldun said we're at the lowest percent positivity yet, at 6.3%.
The month of May has seen only one day bring in more than a thousand new cases, May 14, which was something that happened the majority of days in April (18). The average number of new daily cases so far in the first two weeks of May sits at 585. The average number of daily cases in the two weeks prior, April 14-30, is double that, at 1,195.
Deaths have slowed as well in the last 14 days, though new deaths are still being attributed to the coronavirus after the state reviews death certificate data.
So far in May Michigan has seen an average of 59 new deaths every 24 hours. The state has also linked167 past deaths to COVID-19, adding to a total of 999 deaths so far in May.
The two-week period prior to that saw an average of 100 deaths per day with the state linking 288 past deaths to COVID-19, bringing the total death for April 14-30 to 1,696.
With the data pointing to a decline - and the State has clarified they look at rolling averages vs. daily spikes or decreases - what will the numbers need to look like for Gov. Whitmer to move the state into Phase 4?
Gov. Whitmer's MI Safe Start Plan doesn't give a clear-cut answer to that, but more on that below.
Hospitals are no longer overwhelmed in Michigan with incoming patients, nor by a lack of personal protection equipment.
Also important to note is that the 1,000-bed temporary medical facility at the TCT Center in Detroit is currently on pause due to a lack of need.
Though the MI Safe Start Plan doesn't give too many specifics about testing for COVID-19, we do know state officials have said testing needs to be more widespread across the state before we can open more of the economy.
Only testing those with symptoms paints an uneven picture of where COVID-19 is in Michigan. Screening those populations will naturally render a higher percentage of positive cases, and for Michigan to reopen safely it will need to expand testing throughout the state to better track the virus, experts say. Increasing testing to asymptomatic people can help identify clusters and hot spots.
On Wednesday, Dr. Khaldun said more than 317,000 tests have been done thus far in Michigan and that the labs began surpassing 10,000 tests per day this week. That is far behind the goal Gov, Whitmer has specified, which is 15,000 tests per day and a total of 450,000 tests by the end of May.
But a lack of available equipment has hampered the state's ability to increase testing from the start, as is common for so many other states. Gov. Whitmer says a supply chain issue with swabs is currently holding Michigan back.
NO CLEAR-CUT ANSWER
All signs certainly say we're moving in the right direction for Phase 4, though Gov. Whitmer has said there's no clear-cut number or formula she's looking for to make that decision. No date or target date has been given. She's repeated she'll make decisions based on data and science.
"There is no textbook-specific number that will tell you it's safe to re-engage a particular sector of the economy. It depends on human nature, it depends on human activity, it depends on the appropriate protocols and access to PPE for sectors of the economy. And so there are a lot of variables into this equation," Gov Whitmer said.
The context of case increases across the state also matter when making the decision, she explained. Did these 20 new cases pop up randomly? Or do they all stem from, say, a nursing home facility?
"When the numbers continue to look good and we don't have a spike or growth in a certain area that causes us concern there's community spread, then we'll take that next step," she said.
Meanwhile, the safer-at-home order in Michigan right now is set to expire May 28, and it's not clear yet if Gov. Whitmer has any intention of extending it again.
It is possible to move backward if Michiganders stop adhering to safe practices.
"We have to reengage like a dial, not a switch that goes on or off but a dial we can turn, and we can continue to turn the intensify up if everyone does their part. We have to remember the threat of a second wave is very real," Gov. Whitmer said when announcing the MI Safe Start plan.
Those safe practices include social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing your hands.