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Hospital execs: Michigan at 'tipping point' in COVID-19 battle

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan is at a "tipping point" in its fight against COVID-19 four months after confirming its first cases of the virus, the president and CEO of Detroit's Henry Ford Health System said Thursday.

Low rates of deaths and hospitalizations linked to the coronavirus can create a "false sense of security," Henry Ford's Wright Lassiter III said. Those indicators lag increases in new cases by four to eight weeks, he said.

"The combination of rising case counts and declining vigilance by many is placing our state at a tipping point in our battle with this disease,” Lassiter added.  "We cannot become complacent. We’ve come too far to yield hard-fought gains now."

Wright L. Lassiter, III, left, and Arn Tellem have a One-On-One Conversation on the Sound Board stage at MotorCity Casino and Hotel during the Detroit Policy Conference, Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 29, 2020. Lassiter is President and CEO of Henry Ford Health System and Tellem is Vice Chairman of the Detroit Pistons.

Lassiter was part of a warning from a coalition of hospital, university and business officials Thursday as other states are experiencing spikes in COVID-19.

The virus initially peaked in Michigan in April before rates of new cases and deaths began declining. But in June, cases started increasing once again. Wednesday saw a seven-week high for the number of new cases reported in a single day, and last week brought the highest weekly total for cases in six weeks.

The number of hospitalizations and deaths linked to the virus remain low. As of Tuesday, the state tracked 349 COVID-19 inpatients, down from more than 3,000 at points in April.

But health officials see reason for concern in data on case counts among young people who could help spread COVID-19, and new survey results on the public's attitude about the virus.

A coalition of health care, union and business leaders, including Lassiter, released polling Thursday morning that showed that nearly 40% of adults in the state are less concerned about the virus today than they were a month ago. About 17% are more concerned, according to the poll of 1,000 Michigan residents conducted by TargetPoint Consulting.

In the coalition's press release, Tina Freese Decker, president & CEO of Spectrum Health of Grand Rapids, said "worrisome trends in Michigan" are emerging as other states, like Florida and Texas, have experienced serious outbreaks in recent weeks.

"We are seeing the early signs of an upturn in Michigan. We can lower our risk if we all work together," Freese Decker said. "We must continue to be vigilant by wearing masks, staying six feet apart and washing our hands."

The health care and business coalition — which included representatives from the state’s largest hospitals and companies, such as DTE Energy, Dow and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — has commissioned an advertising campaign to encourage Michigan residents to adhere to safety best practices.

Gerry Anderson, Executive Chairman, DTE Energy, gives his remarks about racism in this country during the press conference, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. CEO's of 9 of Detroit largest corporations stood together to take a stand against racism and injustice in America and its criminal justice system.

Gerry Anderson, executive chairman of DTE, who serves with Lassiter on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's economic recovery council, said the coalition wanted to sound the alarm about trends that are beginning to develop in the state.

"We can stop it," Anderson said. "We can turn it around. But if we don’t act, the results are going to be predictable."

cmauger@detroitnews.com