Stars and Stripes stripes.com 18 Dec, 2020 19:00 am

Heartbreaking deaths of Michigan’s earliest COVID-19 victims: Stories reveal the true toll

Heartbreaking deaths of Michigan’s earliest COVID-19 victims: Stories reveal the true toll
Michigan’s earliest victims fell ill before it was clear how widespread the deadly coronavirus was. By the end of March, the public was told hundreds of the state’s residents had died. But that was only half the story.

An outdated public health system: The state's communicable disease reporting system was antiquated and at risk for human error.Emily Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, believes the public health community focused too long on out of state and international travelers, rather than the people spreading the virus locally.” In more recent months, however, the number of COVID-19-related deaths in Detroit has dropped, said Denise Fair, chief public health officer for the city.Justin Lessler, associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, said deaths reveal how vulnerable the population is, how the disease moves through the population, what groups have been hit hard, and what groups are still at risk.

So even if complete death data is not a part of the real-time public health response, Lessler said, "they remain critical for understanding the overall picture.” Michigan officials have said to have a timely public health response, they rely on indicators like case levels and hospitalizations.

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