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Henry Ford Health System officials said Thursday they've seen "glimmers of hope" in recent days in battling the coronavirus outbreak in Metro Detroit.  

Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group and senior vice president and chief academic officer of the Detroit-based health system, told reporters during a Thursday press call that they are "discharging patients to home more than those who show up to the emergency rooms."

He said they believe they could likely reach a peak in the next few days. The hospitals also are weening more patients off of ventilators for breathing than putting new patients on the machines, Kalkanis said.  

"Our numbers of COVID positive patients from the community presenting to our emergency rooms seems to be tapering off and is slightly less than what we would have predicted," Kalkanis said. "We are not ready to say that we are through the peak of it because we are actively managing capacity and resource concerns. But we do have several glimmers of hope."

The five-hospital system has discharged 931 COVID-19 patients in the last 30 days, according to a press release. 

More hospital staff have tested positive for the virus: 872 as of Thursday for testing that began March 12, officials said. That represents about 2.5% of the five-hospital system's employees.

About 200 employees are away from work recovering, said Dr. Betty Chu, associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer. The remainder have returned to work after the end of symptoms, which is on average about eight days. Some who were infected never had contact with patients Chu said but did not give specific numbers.

Hospital officials also updated their status of the first large-scale study in the country to find out if a drug commonly used to treat lupus, hydroxychloroquine, can prevent COVID-19.

Kalkanis said hospital staff has been in contact with Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday on the study, which is for now being limited to 3,000 first responders and health care workers on the front lines.

Pence indicated during a press briefing this week that Henry Ford Health would like to expand the clinical trial. Kalkanis said they hope to expand to the public and will re-evaluate after they enroll their first 3,000 participants. 

Hundreds have already volunteered to participate, the Henry Ford Health leader said. It will begin Monday and is expected to last for eight weeks. 

Kalkanis added the hospital system's epidemiologists are investigating why Michigan and Metro Detroit have been such a hot spot for the virus. He said he thinks it's because of the area's economic resurgence in recent years.

"I’ve seen a lot of articles nationally about the urban decay and blight and poverty rates in Detroit as a means of explaining why the virus is spreading here," Kalkanis said. "I actually think it’s the exact opposite. … Detroit Metro Airport is one of the top five hubs in the world and because of the resurgence of Detroit we’ve had an incredible amount of commerce going back and forth … to places like China and Italy and Korea in the weeks leading up to this."

Detroit Metro was one of 11 airports cleared by President Donald Trump on March 12 to receive U.S. citizens arriving from 26 countries included in a coronavirus travel ban. They were nations in Europe with open-borders agreements forming the so-called Schengen Area.

The U.S. citizens were being screened at Detroit Metro and the other airports. Citizens returning from Europe during that time were asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days. 

The ban applies to non-U.S. citizens who have traveled to one of the following countries in the previous 14 days: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. 

Ohio's Cleveland Clinic announced Thursday it would be sending staff to the "hardest hit" areas of the country, including Michigan and New York. 

That includes critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, board-certified critical care and emergency medicine physicians, physician assistants and CT and X-ray technicians. There were no breakdowns on exactly where Cleveland Clinic staff would be deployed in the state.

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com

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