At nearly 75, former teacher Maureen Pickelman survived the coronavirus. Hers is one of 100,000 stories of Michiganders battling the pandemic.
MT. CLEMENS, MI — Maureen Pickelman started feeling sick in May. She got tested for the novel coronavirus and it came back, at first, negative. Within a month she was clinging to life.
The coronavirus ravaged Pickelman’s heart.
“I came to find out over the course of a nine day stay in the hospital that the cardiologist who was seeing me suspected COVID-19 was causing these heart problems he was finding,” Pickelman told The ‘Gander.
She had irregular heart rhythms, it was weaker than it should’ve been, and it had enlarged. A blood clot prevented her from having the procedure commonly used to correct arrhythmia so she was put on medication to manage the conditions. She was released with eight weeks of home nurse care, and a defibrillator in case of emergencies.
Pickelman, who turns 75 in September, is now in recovery. As The ‘Gander has explained, recovery is a much longer process than the one month survivorship the state of Michigan uses to determine who it considers to be recovered.
She feels blessed, though. She has a solid support system including fellow retired teacher, roommate and coronavirus survivor Kathy Rank, their former students, families, and their dog Caboose. She’s slowly but surely getting better.
“What’s kept me going is my faith. I’m a Christian who is a former Lutheran school teacher and all during the whole time it’s just been amazing, the help that I’m getting from friends and family from across the country,” Pickelman said.
But Pickelman and Rank are just two cases of the novel coronavirus in Michigan. On Friday, the number of confirmed cases of the virus passed 100,000.
What does the coronavirus look like in Michigan?
Pickelman and Rank are actually fairly average cases of the virus. As white women over 50, they match a lot of coronavirus patients in the state.
Of the 100,000 confirmed cases, more than 40,000 are over 50, and 40,000 are white. More than 50,000 are women. But that doesn’t match Michigan’s demographics overall.
For instance, while 42% of coronavirus cases are over 50, about 25% of Michiganders are in that age group according to census data. And it is disproportionately those older patients who are at the highest risk from the virus. But there are other areas where the demographics of coronavirus patients don’t resemble Michigan’s demographics.
While 80% of Michiganders are white, only 40% of coronavirus patients are. People of most other racial demographics are more common among coronavirus cases than among Michigan more broadly, but most striking is Black Michiganders. While only 14% of Michiganders are Black, more than 23% of coronavirus patients in Michigan are.
Being women might actually have helped Pickelman and Rank, though. According to a Wednesday article in Nature, new data suggests women might have a stronger immune response to the virus than men. That doesn’t mean that women won’t need vaccinations, but that women — particularly ones in Pickelman’s age group — may benefit faster from those vaccinations than men will.
“You could imagine scenarios where a single shot of a vaccine might be sufficient in young individuals or maybe young women, while older men might need to have three shots of vaccine,” Dr. Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute in Germany said to the New York Times.
That vaccine is likely still months away at best. The World Health Organization is hopeful that the pandemic will last less than two years, Reuters reports. That means that the often exhausting months Michigan has faced already leave us still distant from the other side of the pandemic.
Nearly six months of coronavirus
With about two weeks of incubation, it is likely that Pickelman was infected with the coronavirus in late April or early May. That would’ve been near the end of the initial spike of the virus. That was also the time where the virus spread fastest through southeast Michigan.
Another stroke of luck for Pickelman was getting hospitalized in May, not April. The situation in overtaxed and undersupplied hospitals in April was alarming, described as ‘a war zone’ by medical workers. And across the state, medical workers have dealt with the psychological trauma of that war.
Though since May, deaths have remained fairly low thanks to increased hospital ability to treat the virus and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s policies flattening the curve, infections have been on the rise since late June where major superspreader events grabbed headlines and reignited the pandemic across the state.
And with schools poised to reopen, at least some of which will resume in-person instruction, the potential of another spike in September and October looms large over Friday’s grim milestone. Given the current spike is far from managed, with dramatic rise in daily confirmed cases of the virus continuing, a spike related to in-person instruction would compound the strain the current trend will place on Michigan’s medical system.
And the road to the end of the pandemic is still very long.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus compared the coronavirus to the 1918 flu pandemic that ravaged the world for two years. And though technology has made fighting a pandemic easier, Tedros said it also has made spreading the pandemic easier.
“In our situation now with more technology, and of course with more connectiveness, the virus has a better chance of spreading, it can move fast because we are more connected now,” he told reporters. “But at the same time we have also the technology to stop it and the knowledge to stop it. So we have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness but an advantage of better technology.”
That’s why the WHO is optimistic that the world only has around 18 more months of coronavirus to go.