LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — The coronavirus made 2020 Michigan’s deadliest year, driving a 17.9% increase in deaths over 2019, according to preliminary data.
It was the largest annual percentage jump on record, surpassing a 15.6% increase in 1918, when the flu pandemic struck.
More than 115,300 people died in Michigan last year, up from about 97,800 the year before, according to an Associated Press analysis of provisional data kept by the state's vital records division. COVID-19 has been linked to nearly 16,700 deaths since February 2020. The toll was highest in April and then December.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered a televised address Wednesday, marking the anniversary since Michigan's first confirmed cases were announced and she declared an emergency. She asked residents to turn on their porch lights between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. to remember those who have died.
The Democratic governor told stories about people's efforts during the pandemic — mentioning brewery owners, a worker at a nursing home, a seventh-grader science teacher and Latresa Rice, a college administrator, motivational speaker and author from Detroit whose husband died of COVID-19 in April. Whitmer credited her for showing courage and vulnerability to talk about his death on social media and with TV outlets, when Rice urged the public to follow safety guidelines.
“I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm in awe of your strength,” Whitmer said.
Vaccines offer hope that the pandemic will finally draw to an end. More than 1.7 million people are fully or partially vaccinated in Michigan, 21.2% of the population age 16 and up. The state wants to immunize at least 70% of that group.
“As I've said before, tough times don't last but tough people do. We in Michigan have been tested and we are tough. Together I know we'll beat this damn virus,” the governor said.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health, reported Wednesday a “slight reversal” in progress. Case rates, positivity rates and hospitalization metrics that generally had been declining from December peaks are up in recent weeks, which is not surprising following the Whitmer administration's gradual loosening of restrictions on business' capacity and gathering sizes.
Khaldun, urging continued vigilance, warned of the potential for a rapid rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths if more contagious variants first detected in Britain and South Africa become more prevalent. Federal health officials said this week that fully vaccinated people can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing and with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
“If we want our kids in school and to stay in school, if we want to do more activities without masks, if we want our businesses to reopen more and stay open, getting vaccinated is the path forward,” Khaldun said.
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