Last March's Covid bulletins from state show Michigan struggling with fear and unknowns

March 07, 2021, 7:59 PM by  Alan Stamm

Within hours, this release last March 10 was overtaken by news of the first two cases.

State government news releases aren't typically the stuff of drama, but the past year has been far from typical.

Wednesday is the 12-month anniversary of Michigan's first two Covid diagnoses, posted in an announcement with a second sentence that foreshadowed a catastrophe no one imagined: "The governor has declared a state of emergency to maximize efforts and assist local governments and officials to slow the spread of the virus."


The flurry of public notices back then sketch a word picture of how a historic, horrific year began. Releases archived at are unstylish, but their escalating frequency and urgency recall a time of spreading fear and uncertainty as the toll spiraled daily.  

With unemotional language and a we've-got-this tone ("working diligently ... ensuring the safety of Michigan’s residents"), these documents are a chronicle of the crisis' early days. They're diary-like field notes for historians, authors and anniversary-marking journalists, a reminder of waves that became a storm still pounding Michigan.

One stark reminder is how unsure officials seemed that the new virus would be a long-term emergency.

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced last March 12 that public and private K-12 schools would shut the following Monday, the second sentence said: "School buildings are scheduled to reopen on Monday, April 6." Anticipating criticism, she noted: "Governors across the country ... have taken similar steps."

And when she closed restaurants, theaters, bars, casinos and other businesses March 16, it initially was called a two-week precaution. 

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Part of the drama from looking back at Lansing alerts 12 months ago comes from their steadily rising volume. From March 3-31, 2020, state agencies issued 140 Covid releases -- an average of five each day. The deluge peaked with a dozen on each of three days (March 13, 17 and 18).

It has been a long and wearying year.

Most were from the governor's office and health department, but they also flowed from the State Police, attorney general, Transportation Department, Corrections Department and Labor Department. (Last month brought 31 releases related to the coronavirus, by comparison. So far this March, 10 share Covid news.)    

In addition to announcements about price gouging, food assistance, unemployment aid, a new hotline, suspended prison visits and other executive orders, the state initially issued updates on confirmed cases. First-week releases said the number rose from two to 12 on March 12, to 25 a day later (reported in two updates), to 33 on March 14 and to 53 the next day. 

That unsustainable approach lasted six days. By the time 54 people were infected March 16, the state announced a switch to an online dashboard updated each afternoon.

Now, nearly 365 days after a woman from Oakland and a Wayne County man made news as Michigan's first patients, the health department records this pandemic toll:

  • 598,014 confirmed cases

  • 60,341 probable cases

  • 15,670 deaths

  • 992 deaths probably caused by Covid

Last March 13, the state issued morning and afternoon releases about single-digit case increases -- an approach abandoned three days later.

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