Today I address a remarkable announcement from CBS WWMT (Channel 3) in Grand Rapids Michigan.
Their website proudly announces that Michigan has “the nation’s highest COVID-19 death rate.” They also definitively state that the elevated COVID-19 death rate in some Michigan counties was based on “differences in economics.”
They came to this conclusion because they compared (only) two counties in Michigan with similar numbers of diagnosed cases (1,600): Kent and Genesee counties. Despite have similar number of diagnosed cases, these counties had very different numbers of deaths; 192 in Genesee and 36 in Kent. The WWMT decided this was due to Genesee County having a poverty rate more than double that of Kent County.
These figures were shocking to me, especially since I live in Michigan. I decided to look carefully at the information on which they are based.
The television station assessed deaths per “diagnosed COVID infection” in Michigan, and then focused only on Kent and Genesee counties. Obviously, confirmed diagnoses involve virus testing, which has been inconsistent across Michigan. A broader look at the state using population rates gives a firmer statistic and provides a much different story.
When one looks at COVID diagnosis per capita across counties in Michigan, the real outlier is Kent County (.002). In fact, compared to SE Michigan, the rate in Kent County is extraordinarily low.
In SE Michigan, an early hotspot for the pandemic, the per capita infection rate of Genesee County (.004) is lower than its neighbors Macomb Country (.006) and Oakland County (.006).
Importantly, the death rate per capita from COVID-19 in Genesee County (4.5 per 10,000 residents) is lower than that in the adjacent counties of Macomb County (7.4 per 10,000 residents) and Oakland County (6.2 per 10,000 residents). This is despite Oakland County being one of the wealthiest counties in the United States!
The biggest difference between Kent and Genesee counties Is that Kent County is on the west side of the state of Michigan. COVID-19 infections were delayed in West Michigan compared to southeastern Michigan. Genesee county, next to Oakland and Macomb counties, has had more COVID-19 activity for many weeks.
While there may be an under-diagnosis of COVID-19 in Genesee County, saying that this is based on economics just does not hold up under scrutiny. It is actually doing better than its richer neighbors.
The statement that the “nation’s highest death rate is in the state of Michigan” also does not appear to be correct. Again, basing death rates on confirmed diagnosis is a mistake given reporting deficiencies. Michigan’s death rate per capita (0.0004) appears to be lower than New York (0.0012), New Jersey (0.0009), Massachusetts (0.0005) and Connecticut (0.0006). Our confirmed infection per capita is also lower.
Therefore, we do not “lead” in deaths, either in overall deaths or deaths per capita.
None of this dismisses the horrific effect of COVID in Michigan; however overstating the statistics helps no one.