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Michigan's medical executive: 'Very concerned' about COVID-19 trends

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations trend upward, the state's Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun says she's "very concerned" about what she's seeing across Michigan.

Khaldun made the comments in an interview this week, which is on pace to bring the most new coronavirus confirmations reported in the state since April. Over the first six days of the week, Michigan has 5,618 new confirmed cases.

MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

Michigan's seven-day average for new cases stood at 968 cases per day on Friday, up 37% from the same seven-day period a month earlier. 

"What is really concerning is our hospitalizations and our deaths are also going up," Khaldun said.

On Thursday, Michigan reported 918 hospitalized adults with suspected or confirmed cases of the virus, an 82% increase from the 503 hospitalized adults about three weeks earlier.

While the new cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain lower than the pandemic's peak in the state in early April, health officials are watching the numbers closely to see whether they're the start of a larger trend upward.

Michigan reported 1,095 new cases and seven new deaths on Friday, pushing the overall totals to 133,134 cases and 6,876 deaths. As of last week, 99,521 residents were considered recovered by the state.

The counties experiencing the largest growth in cases in Michigan are in the rural Upper Peninsula. As of Friday, the state's top six counties for new cases per population over the last 24 days were all in the Upper Peninsula, where there have been cases on the campus of Michigan Technological University and spread from Wisconsin, a state that is experiencing jumps in cases.

Iron County, which is on the border with Wisconsin, went from 49 confirmed cases on Sept. 15 to 278 confirmed cases on Friday. That's 229 new cases, or one for every 49 county residents, according to state data.

Chris Harff, president of Aspirus Upper Peninsula, a health system with four hospitals in northern Michigan, said the facilities have seen an uptick in patients with the virus and staff members having symptoms. But the system wasn't having capacity problems, she said.

Fighting COVID-19 was initially a sprint, and it's been described as a marathon, Harff said. But, now, she considers it a triathlon with multiple phases.

“We’re very cautious at this point," Harff said.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced that an alternative care facility at the Wisconsin State Fair Park would begin accepting COVID-19 patients as that state sees "record surges in COVID-19 patient hospitalizations."

Advocate Aurora Health, which has hospitals in northern Wisconsin, said in a statement this week that it's seen a "steady increase" in COVID-19 patients in the northern part of the state throughout September.

"We are paying particularly close attention to that area as positivity rates continue to rise across the state," the hospital system's statement said.

There are outbreaks in the Upper Peninsula tied to schools, businesses and social gatherings, said Khaldun, Detroit's former health director.

She recommended that people traveling to the region "remain vigilant," wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing.

There is no question that cases are increasing in Michigan and people need to take the virus seriously, Khaldun said.

"We do have a chance to stop the spread of this disease," she said.