Study: Michigan hospitals could hit peak COVID-19 demand April 8

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

University of Washington researchers are estimating Michigan hospitals will hit peak coronavirus demand on April 8 and that the state is about 10,563 hospital beds short of what will be needed that day.

The study published Thursday by the Institute for Heath Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington Medicine also predicted that Michigan would need roughly 1,785 ventilators at that peak date. The state on Saturday said there are about 1,622 ventilators available among Michigan’s hospitals.

A University of Michigan technician works on developing a potential test for the coronavirus at the Michigan Medicine microbiology laboratory in Ann Arbor. March 2020

The study’s assumptions were based on when Michigan’s mitigation measures were put in place and hinged on “the continuation of strong social distancing measures and other protective measures.”

Nationwide, "demand for health services rapidly increases in the last week of March and first 2 weeks of April and then slowly declines through the rest of April and May, with demand continuing well into June," according to the institute's report.

The study's predictions appear to align with other models in circulation, but without more widespread testing, "it's difficult to say whether these models are accurate," Michigan Health and Hospitals Association spokesman Ruthanne Sudderth said in a statement.

Additionally, the study did not appear to separate southeast Michigan, which is reporting increasingly higher case numbers than the rest of the state, Sudderth said. The increase there has led to the movement of patients to out state hospitals, the addition of 2,000 beds to existing hospital systems and the planned construction of at least one new alternate site. 

"The challenge for all of these new beds is how to staff them, especially if healthcare workers become infected," Sudderth said. "We must continue to ensure that healthcare workers are getting the PPE they need to safely care for COVID-19 patients and all other patients, and we need peo ple to listen to the Governor and stay safely at home."

Michigan's expected April 8 peak, which coincides with Louisiana's, is expected to come sooner than most other states, only preceded by New York and Vermont, according to the study. The virus is expected to peak nationwide on April 14. 

The study initially was prepared for the University of Washington medical system and helped those hospitals to prepare for peak numbers, according to the Thursday report. It was funded by the state of Washington and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

While the study may help states prepare, the study noted that the coronavirus timeline, duration and peak estimates remain uncertain "this early in the epidemic."

"Given this, it is critical to update these projections as new data on deaths in the US are collected," the report said. "Uncertainty will also be reduced as we gain more knowledge about the course of the epidemic in other countries, particularly in Europe, where countries such as Italy and Spain have a more advanced epidemic than the US."

As of Sunday afternoon, Michigan had 5,486 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 132 deaths. A majority of the cases have been located in the southeast Michigan counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb.

In Detroit alone, there have been 1,542 people who have tested positive for the virus and 35 people who have died.

Whitmer on Sunday told CNN’s Jake Tapper the situation in Detroit was “dire” and “getting worse by the minute.”

Michigan has roughly 27,000 hospital beds state wide, according to state data, but more than 18,000 were in use for illnesses other than COVID-19, according to a March 2 inventory.

Hospitals have reported to the state that they had 1,622 ventilators available as of March 26, but 1,785 ventilators will be needed, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The predictions from the research center indicate 20,717 beds will be needed on the peak date of April 8 but only 10,154 beds will be available.

The number of needed beds includes 3,306 intensive care unit beds. Only 742 ICU beds will be available April 8, according to the prediction.

The center predicted the state will reach its peak number of deaths, 237, on April 9 and that Michigan will reach a total of 4,061 deaths through Aug. 4.

Nationwide, the virus is expected to peak on April 14 with a total bed shortage of 48,292 and a need for 18,767 ventilators, according to the research center. The number of COVID-19 deaths nationwide is expected to peak that same day, with 2,341 deaths.

The research center predicted the U.S. will have a total 81,114 deaths by Aug. 4.

The report comes as the state this week revved up efforts to increase coordination among hospitals and began exploring multiple locations for alternate sites or field hospitals to handle overflow from southeast Michigan hospitals, where the majority of cases are located.

The state this week told hospitals it would start shifting some patients from Detroit-area hospitals to out state hospitals to balance the load across regions. Out state hospitals will be required to offer 10% of their usual bed capacity to accept patients from other hospitals nearing capacity.

The state also announced Sunday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will retrofit the TCF Center in Detroit to add 900 additional hospital beds on two floors.