News Story

New State Website Little Help In Determining COVID-19 Risk Levels

Data on site appears to conflict with governor's reopening plan

The state of Michigan has unveiled a new website that rates regions of the state as being in one of six stages of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. But the data shown on the site does not appear to support the recovery phases applicable to each region under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening plan.

As prescribed by details of Whitmer’s executive orders, each of the eight regions has been labeled according to its current recovery phase, as defined by the governor’s MI Safe Start Plan.

The governor issued a press release announcing the new website, saying, “This dashboard will provide us with the data we need to assess risk in different regions of the state so we can re-engage our economy safely and deliberately, while working to minimize the risk of a second wave of infections.”

In many instances, however, the regions and counties included are rated in a higher risk phase than what the data suggests they should be. This analysis was as of 5 p.m. on May 26.

For example, the Upper Peninsula is labeled “medium-risk,” but data provided elsewhere on the website suggests it should be “low risk.” A chart shows that lower than 3% positive test results for COVID-19 (based on a seven-day average) is “low risk.” There were 1.2% positive tests in the U.P. Similarly, fewer than seven daily new cases per million people is “low risk,” according to another chart. The U.P. has only 1.4 daily new cases per million people.

Also according to the website, 11 of the 15 counties in the U.P. haven’t have someone test positive for the coronavirus over a seven-day period.

Another example is the Lansing region which includes five counties. Lansing is given a “medium-high” risk rating. However, the test results rate of 2.4% is “low risk" and the new cases rate of 18.5 per million people is a “medium” risk. Both results are below the “medium-high” assessment.

Similar results are found for four other regions. The website’s data appears to only support the labels for two of the eight regions.

The website says the data provided is “taken into consideration, with other epidemiologic information, in assigning the overall risk level for a region. ... The State of Michigan’s decisions about the MI Safe Start plan also take into consideration availability of mitigation and economic factors, among other factors.”

Michael Van Beek, director of research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the website is not transparent enough to be of assistance.

“Without further explanation, this newly touted website seems to confuse more than it clarifies,” Van Beek said.

The new website was developed through a collaboration between the state of Michigan’s departments of Health and Human Services and Labor and Economic Opportunity and the University of Michigan, according to a state press release.