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Michigan 'several weeks' from peak in COVID-19 cases

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

LansingThe number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan jumped upward by more than 1,000 Monday as state officials cautioned that it would be "several weeks" before the virus afflicting the state peaks.

Data released Monday afternoon showed that 52 more Michigan residents had died, the largest 24-hour increase in COVID-19 deaths yet, for a total of 184. The previous daily high was 32.

"We're still in the early stages of spread in Michigan," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, adding "current models suggest we are likely several weeks away from a peak in the number of cases here."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference to update the public on the spread of COVID-19 on Monday, March 30, 2020.

During a press conference, Khaldun said the state would need more health care workers and personal protective equipment to combat the virus. Also, the state needs 5,000 to 10,000 more ventilators, she said. Currently, Michigan has about 1,700.

"We know our hospitals are going to need more beds," Khaldun said. "We’re going to need thousands more ventilators. And a lot of people are going to get sick."

The acknowledgment about the need for ventilators came before Ford Motor Co. announced Monday that it will help produce 50,000 ventilators in Michigan in the next 100 days with GE Healthcare. The state of Michigan is already attempting to spend $80 million to secure supplies, including 2,000 ventilators, to combat COVID-19, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday.

"We have contracted for these things, and it is our hope that they all will get to Michigan as our contracts reflect and require," the governor said.

Michigan now has 6,498 total cases overall, according to data released Monday afternoon by the Department of Health and Human Services. As of Sunday, Michigan had 5,486 confirmed cases.

The state ranks among the top four in the country for confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. And the number of cases clustered in Metro Detroit is already testing the capacity of hospitals and drawing national attention.

In an interview on ABC Monday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, flagged Detroit as one of the cities that federal officials are concerned about.

"We're also worried about Detroit," Fauci told "Good Morning America." "Detroit is starting to show some signs that they're going to take off."

Wayne County, which is home to Detroit as well as about 17% of Michigan's population, has 3,195 confirmed cases, about 49% of the total in Michigan. The entire state of neighboring Ohio has reported 1,933 cases.

Wayne County has reported 83 deaths. Ohio as a state, in comparison, has experienced 39 deaths so far. Detroit alone has 50 reported deaths.

Whitmer and Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive, continue to predict that the number of cases here will increase in the coming weeks.

Khaldun cited current models in saying the state is still "several weeks" from a peak in cases. A University of Washington study suggested Michigan's cases might peak around April  8 based on how Michigan initially responded to the outbreak.

Joseph Eisenberg, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, said an estimate of several weeks isn't unreasonable.

"It’s certainly hard to predict," said Eisenberg, who noted health officials are trying to determine how long it will take for social distancing measures to affect the spread of the virus.

The measures will take at least a couple of weeks to affect the case numbers because of COVID-19's incubation period, he said.

Khaldun also acknowledged it was difficult to say exactly how the virus would spread in Michigan going forward.

"If anyone says there is one particular date where we know this is going to peak or we know how many people are going to get it or are going to die, it’s just not true right now," Khaldun said during the morning press conference.

Monday's developments came one week after Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order that forced many businesses here to severely limit their operations. She had previously shuttered the state's schools and closed bars, gyms, movie theaters and dine-in service at restaurants to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Whitmer said people shouldn't think the rising number of cases means staying at home isn't having an impact.

"It is, and it will," the governor vowed.

The comments came after Whitmer designated the TCF convention center in Detroit for retrofitting for hospital beds to accommodate patients. COVID-19 patients who are not critically ill will be served at TCF, Khaldun said about current plans. But the state will also need more health care workers to help coronavirus patients, she said.

“We are definitely having a significant shortage of nurses to take care of COVID-19 patients right now," she said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shared these numbers on Monday, March 30, 2020, to show Michigan has spent more than $80 million to secure items to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will need additional medical professionals, doctors, physician assistants, respiratory therapists and others to respond to this crisis," Khaldun added. "We encourage medical professionals who are willing and able to sign up. We are truly going to need everyone to chip in and donate their skills and expertise to fight this pandemic.” 

During a recent appearance on CNN, Whitmer said Michigan needs more ventilators for hospital patients and masks and gloves to protect health care workers.

"We’re living day by day at this juncture," she said of Michigan's supplies of personal protective equipment for hospital workers.

Michigan received 112,000 N95 respirator masks from the national stockpile on Saturday, which Whitmer said helped get the state through the weekend. In total, Michigan has received 310,380 of the masks from the stockpile as of Sunday night.

However, Whitmer said one unnamed hospital in the Detroit area goes through 10,000 of the masks in a day.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writers Karen Bouffard and Melissa Nann Burke contributed