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Michigan hospitals sound alarm over near-record COVID-19 hospitalizations

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Michigan's Health and Hospital Association is urging residents to take precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as the state approaches its highest number of hospitalized patients since the pandemic began.

The state's hospital association on Monday issued a series of measures including masking up and getting vaccinated against the virus, to help prevent overwhelming hospitalizations. The move comes a year after Michigan faced a similar surge in cases leading up to the winter holidays. 

"We are extremely concerned because our best predictions are that COVID-19 patients will continue to increase during the weeks ahead as we enter the yearly flu season," according to the statement.

Melia Frame, renal transport, Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn,  prepares a gurney to transport a COVID-19 patient on the 8th floor on the South Tower at Beaumont Hospital Dearborn on Tuesday, November 9, 2021. The Michigan Health and Hospital Association on Monday urged residents to take precautions to stem the spread of the virus and warned of near-record COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state.

Over the previous seven days including Friday, Michigan reported 53,575 new COVID-19 cases, the highest weekly caseload since the pandemic began in March 2020.

As of Sunday, 3,785 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized across the state, including 784 in intensive care units. The vast majority of patients in the ICU and on ventilators, the MHA noted, are unvaccinated.

The state's record for most adult hospitalizations with confirmed cases of the virus occurred on April 19 with 4,158 inpatients.

In addition, the hospital association said it is witnessing high numbers of patients with other medical conditions requiring care.

"This combination is straining or exceeding the capacity of emergency departments and hospitals across the state," according to the MHA statement. "We cannot wait any longer for Michigan to correct course; we need your help now to end this surge and ensure our hospitals can care for everyone who needs it."

Across the state, staffing shortages and more patients in emergency departments have resulted in long wait times, patients being placed in hallways or conference rooms, and diverting patients away from the hospital due to no room or staff to care for them, the hospital association said. 

Michigan added 17,008 cases and 83 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, including cases from Saturday and Sunday, as the state continued to lead the country in new cases of the virus per population over the last seven days. The latest figures mark an overall total of 1,259,261 confirmed cases and 23,315 deaths since March 2020.

The picture reflects nearing the beginning of the pandemic when healthcare workers compared the inside of hospitals to "war zones" with patients dying in the hallways.

At the same time, the MHA said Monday, the need for care for heart disease, cancer and other diseases "will continue at some of the highest rates we’ve seen in recent history."

In the battle against COVID-19, evidence shows that patients who receive monoclonal antibody therapy early have markedly lower rates of hospitalization and complications from the virus, according to MHA. 

"Many hospitals have reprioritized staff and resources from ambulatory services such as testing, outpatient treatment or rehab to free up caregivers to dispense monoclonal antibody therapy and vaccines in the hope of reducing hospitalization and death," according to the statement. "While these actions may lead to longer wait times for ambulatory services, it is important that patients who meet the criteria seek out monoclonal antibody therapy to reduce the chance of a hospital stay."

The MHA is asking residents to understand that hospitals are operating at contingency levels of care, which means waiting times are longer and staffing shortages are now the norm and not an exception.

"This situation is a result of our ongoing pandemic response, the serious illness of non-COVID-19 patients, the increased length of stay of all patients, and the resulting high number of patients in Michigan hospitals," the hospital association added.

If the pressure on hospitals and EMS increases further, "we all risk facing increasing delays and challenges in accessing care for everyone who needs emergency services and inpatient hospital care."

The hospital association warnings come after Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services issued an advisory on Friday recommending people wear masks at indoor gatherings regardless of their vaccination status.

The state also encouraged businesses to impose policies to ensure that all people entering, including employees, wear masks and advised individuals who are not fully vaccinated or who are immunocompromised to avoid large crowds or gatherings.

"The increases in case counts, percent positivity and hospitalizations have us very concerned,” Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health department, said Friday.

"We are issuing the face mask advisory and are looking to Michiganders to do their part to help protect their friends, their families and their communities by wearing a mask in indoor settings and getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and flu as soon as possible if they have not already done so."

The state advisory, which is not a mandate, will remain in effect until further notice, according to the Friday announcement.

The state health department and Whitmer's office did not immediately respond to requests Monday on whether mandates are expected to be issued this week.

The MHA advisory noted Michigan is "experiencing another wave of infection driven by the delta variant" along with an uptick in cases of other respiratory illnesses, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, which is more commonly known as RSV.

The hospital association also stressed that residents should get vaccinated and that booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are now approved for individuals ages 18 and up. Find a vaccine location at vaccine.gov

As of Thursday, about 54.8% of Michigan residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

Michigan is seventh nationally for the most boosters administered. Approximately 1.5%, or 78,000, of those who are fully vaccinated have had breakthrough cases. Of those, 2,009 individuals were hospitalized and 944 died, the majority being older than 65, state figures show. 

The hospital association said residents should social distance at indoor gatherings, wear a mask at all times, and limit interaction with others if they become aware of potential COVID-19 exposure.

"Our healthcare teams have worked tirelessly for the past 20 months to serve every community in our state," MHA concluded. "Now more than ever, they need your support."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_