Experts say pandemic is ‘not at all’ over while grappling with gaps in COVID-19 data
Why the Advance will no longer publish weekly COVID data reports
It has now been more than three years since COVID-19 threw the world into upheaval — but with reported cases falling in Michigan and a general sense of pre-pandemic normalcy back, many entities have ramped down their reporting methods for new COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Because of this, the Advance will no longer report weekly COVID-19 data from the state on Tuesdays as experts have raised concerns that available information is no longer a useful measure of the pandemic. But the Advance will continue to cover the impacts of the pandemic on Michiganders.
On May 2, the state reported 2,630 new COVID-19 cases and 62 new deaths. Both metrics are down from the previous week. However, with the increased prevalence in at-home testing that is not necessarily being reported to the state or health care providers, these numbers are no longer likely painting the full picture.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) did not provide data about how many tests are being reported with at-home testing on the rise.
“Michigan is experiencing some of the lowest case rates and hospitalizations since the pandemic began. We continue to monitor case rates, percent positivity, COVID-like illness surveillance, hospitalizations and wastewater surveillance data to provide insight into what is going on in the state,” said DHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin.
“Although many people are helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the use of over-the-counter tests at home, this data, when looked at together, provides a clear perspective on the state of COVID-19 in Michigan,” Sutfin continued, adding that all Michiganders are encouraged to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Peter Gulick, an infectious disease expert and a professor of medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, said that at this point in the pandemic, COVID-19 metrics mainly focus on the severity of outbreaks via hospitalization data. Vaccine guidance, thorough testing data and a more detailed look at the virus’ reach have slowed down significantly.
“They’re not doing the surveillance like they did,” said Gulick.
“It’s almost looked at like [just] an infection. … It’s a common condition that we’re now dealing with,” Gulick added.
To date, more than 3.1 million Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. A total of 42,811 people in Michigan have died from the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports there have been more than 765.2 million confirmed cases worldwide and more than 6.9 million deaths. The United States makes up a significant portion of those, as 103.2 million confirmed cases and 1,124,063 deaths have been recorded nationally.
As for vaccines, the state of Michigan reports that over 6.9 million residents (69.9% of the state population) have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 81.4% of the country has received at least one dose.
However, a leading COVID-19 tracker from Johns Hopkins University no longer provides updates. On April 28, the CDC announced that it will stop tracking community levels for the virus, opting instead to start monitoring COVID-19 like other infections like the flu.
The country’s public health emergency for COVID-19 also expires next week. Additionally, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), on Friday declared that COVID-19 is “over as a global health emergency.”
When these robust data collection and reporting efforts cease, many communities will be flying blind and I am worried that response to surges in cases will be delayed.
– Christopher Friese, a registered nurse and nursing professor at the University of Michigan
But Gulick said that for immunocompromised, seniors and similarly vulnerable patients, the pandemic is not over — “Not at all,” he said.
“I’m just always worried about the immunocompromised patient because those are the ones that still have a high risk regardless of anything.”
Gulick, who also works with HIV patients through the Ingham County Health Department, added he hopes that at least regional monitoring of the virus will stay in place.
“I think we still have to be careful,” he said. “ … I don’t want to be surprised by anything. I still want to have some kind of monitoring. I don’t want to have a bunch of human lives lost just because we weren’t monitoring closely.”
Christopher Friese, a registered nurse and nursing professor at the University of Michigan, similarly said that ramping down data collection on COVID-19 is “understandable” but may lead to some communities “flying blind” due to the lack of reporting.
“It is understandable for governments to want to ramp down some of the COVID testing support and documentation. This has been much longer than many had predicted,” Friese said.
“At the same time, the robust data collection efforts and dashboards helped us tremendously in identifying problematic areas of the country where we needed to surge personnel and resources. When these robust data collection and reporting efforts cease, many communities will be flying blind and I am worried that response to surges in cases will be delayed,” Friese continued.
I don’t want to be surprised by anything. ... I don’t want to have a bunch of human lives lost just because we weren’t monitoring closely.
– Dr. Peter Gulick, an infectious disease expert and a professor of medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine
Friese warned that health care workers may now face more difficulties containing outbreaks when they emerge without more detailed information on case counts in their area.
He said that individuals should stay vigilant despite the easing up of tracking COVID-19 data.
“Taken together, our communities need to recognize that while COVID has eased, it has not vanished,” Friese said. “There are many community members with compromised immune systems.
“We all need to remain vigilant and be aware of changing conditions so we can protect our loved ones appropriately.”
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