Michigan contact tracing questioned amid coronavirus surge

Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 11:44 PM EDT
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As Michigan's daily diagnosed cases again begin to inch North, a national coronavirus modeling tool singles out contact tracing as one potential avenue of improvement in the state's response.

So, does Michigan lag behind? The answer, as it turns out, isn’t all that clear-cut.

The State of Michigan – moving from green to yellow according to a map assembled by COVID Act Now, a database which pools a range of information to assign each state an individual risk factor. Governor Gretchen Whitmer used the same map to underscore the state’s progress just a week ago:

“This map shows Michigan and New York are the only states on track to contain COVID-19,” Whitmer announced during a June 17 media briefing.

The higher numbers coincide with outbreaks tied to an East Lansing bar, a number of Traverse City’s wineries and throughout rural Oceana County in West Michigan. And, according to COVID Act Now, the state may not be able to get an effective handle on new outbreaks. The model claims Michigan’s 1050 contact tracers are currently only able to account for 71% of new cases and suggests it would need upwards of 50 percent more in order to keep the virus in its crosshairs.

“We have the ability to contact trace those, and they’ve even said, in some cases, 48 hours, your ability to understand the number of individuals that could be affected is great, greatly increased.”

While the CEO of Memorial Healthcare has spent months emphasizing reliance on a data-driven approach to curb the coronavirus pandemic, Brian long argues a two day climb can’t tell scientists much.

“I don’t know whether that’s the beginning of a trend or if it’s an anomaly,” explained Long. “We need to do a good job understanding what’s generating that.”

Contact tracing in rural Shiawassee County, the home of Memorial Healthcare, runs in stark contrast to the practice as seen in some of Michigan’s urban centers. Long tells ABC 12 that more of an effort might be necessary if Michigan continues trending upward, but argues efforts should hone in on hot spots.

“If we’ve got, let’s say the majority of those 353 cases today, located in a half dozen locations,” began Long. “Let’s say we needed 100 contact tracers in the State of Michigan… we need probably 70 of them in those six key areas.”

Now with greater freedom to move around the state, personal responsibility, Long argues, remains the first line of defense.

“I think the issues… are relative to personal responsibility,” related Long. “I think the success lies in the front end there, rather than trying to push the genie back into the bottle.”