Study ranks Michigan among the top states for coronavirus response — despite being a hotspot

Apr 22, 2020 at 2:10 pm
Though the coronavirus has claimed more lives in Michigan than neighbors Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois combined, one study ranks the state among the top in terms of speedy government reaction times to the COVID-19 crisis.

The data analysis site took a look at when states reported their first coronavirus case versus when state of emergencies were declared, and at which point the state-issued stay-at-home orders and other closures, like schools and non-essential businesses, occurred.

In the top spot is West Virginia, which as of Wednesday has just 929 confirmed cases and 27 coronavirus-related deaths. The study found that West Virginia had the quickest and most effective coordinated effort, having declared a state of emergency on March 16, one day before the state would report its first confirmed case, with the closing bars and restaurants following the next day.

It may come as a surprise, then, that Michigan ranks No. 2 in terms of government response. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been criticized by some who think her stay-at-home order is excessive, with thousands storming the state capitol to protest and defy the order as part of a protest called “Operation Gridlock.”

The study found that Whitmer's response was among the quickest, as Michigan did not confirm its first coronavirus case until March 10. Whitmer closed schools on March 13, with the closure of dine-in restaurant and bar services, and nonessential businesses shortly thereafter. Michigan's first stay-at-home order was issued on March 24, effective through April 13, which has since been extended through April 30.

What the study does not include are death tolls and infection rates — both grim statistics where Michigan leads. Michigan has recorded more than 30,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,700 deaths, far more than West Virginia, and making it the third-deadliest state for the coronavirus in the country.

Public health experts and epidemiologists who spoke with Metro Times suggest that Detroit Metropolitan Airport may have played a big role in the spread of the virus, which could have swept across the state undetected for months. As of February, Detroit's airport was among 11 in the U.S. that diverted travelers from China for health screenings. At that time, only five Michigan residents had been tested for the virus; the limited number of tests were being reserved for people who met strict criteria, including having traveled to China.

Experts also suspect Michigan's international auto industry ties may have also had a hand in the state's rapid and deadly infection rate. In addition to business as usual, Michigan held its Democratic presidential primary last month, and packed political rallies throughout the state accompanied it. The primary was held on March 10, the same day as the state's first positive case of coronavirus was announced and two weeks before Whitmer's stay-at-home order was issued.

By the time Michigan reported its first case, 35 states had already been impacted.

The study found that Nebraska had the “least robust” response to the crisis, failing to close its schools and leaving the decision to local cities and governments. As of last week, Nebraska was among the few states without a stay-at-home order.

Arizona and Washington also come last in the rankings, due to delayed responses, despite being two of the first states to report confirmed cases in January.

Both Arizona and Washington issued their respective stay-at-home orders more than two months after confirmed cases. California ranks 45, as the state had confirmed its first case in January. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in early March but held off on issuing a stay-at-home until March 19. However, California has nearly 1,000 fewer confirmed cases than Michigan, which has twice the number of deaths as the Golden State.

The full study can be found here. You can view the map of the rankings below.

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