Michigan hits new record for adult COVID-19 hospitalizations. Here's the impact

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Michigan reached a new record of adults hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday with 4,181 hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus, the most since the pandemic began.

In the state, more than 80% of total hospital inpatient beds and 84% of intensive care unit beds are full, according to the state health department. Hospitalizations have been increasing for 19 weeks, and Michigan continues to have the most cases and highest inpatient bed use in the country. 

The Monday tally breaks the previous record of 4,158 adults hospitalized on April 19.

Last week, 18.7% of Michigan's COVID-19 tests were positive, the highest percentage since the early weeks of the pandemic, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Nine hospitals are 100% full, according to the latest state data. They include Detroit Receiving Hospital, Ascension Standish, Bronson South Haven, MidMichigan Medical Center in Alma, ProMedica Coldwater, Promedica Monroe, Spectrum Health in Hastings, and St. Joseph Mercy in Ann Arbor and Livingston. Another 22 hospitals are above 90% full.

Superior Ambulance Service Emergency Medical Technicians Brandon Rufin, left, and his wife, Ciera Rufin, prepare this patient for transport that waited on a gurney in the emergency center hallway Monday afternoon, Nov. 29, 2021. Members of the medical staff at Beaumont Hospital in Troy work in the emergency center. The hospital is so busy that many patients waiting to be admitted into the hospital lie on gurneys in emergency center hallways waiting for patient rooms to open up on other floors.

The rising number of hospitalizations in Michigan is putting Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System's occupancy at 98% full and intensive care units are 95% full across all its hospitals, Dr. Dennis Cunningham, the system's director of infection control and prevention, told The Detroit News on Monday. 

“We're in high capacity right now. The patients who come into the hospital with COVID are almost always not vaccinated,” Cunningham said. “There are a small number of people who are vaccinated and come in the hospital, but they have immune systems that don't work really well either because they're the elderly or underlying medical problems like cancer or an organ transplant.”

On Monday morning, Henry Ford Health had 380 confirmed COVID patients with 60 additional patients with suspected cases.

“People who have medical problems that put you at high risk for COVID, I am encouraging them to get tested as quickly as possible no matter how they're feeling,” Cunningham said. “Because they are candidates for the monoclonal antibody infusions, which will help prevent hospitalization and death in people with risk factors for more severe disease.”

Beaumont Health, the state's largest health system, is treating Michigan's most COVID-19 patients at 562 at eight of its hospitals, which are all above 70% capacity.

The patients at Beaumont Health's hospitals are "almost exclusively unvaccinated," Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research for Beaumont Health, told The News during a Sunday break of caring for COVID-19 patients. "And I can tell you the numbers that we've seen by me and my partners in the last couple of days have gone up."

"No, I don't think that's the Thanksgiving effect yet," he added. "I'm sure that Thanksgiving is probably going to push it even higher. So we're concerned."

About 23% of hospital inpatients statewide are COVID positive, according to the state's latest hospital data. There are regional differences with some facilities reporting that nearly 50% of inpatients are COVID positive.

About 917 patients are in ICUs and nearly 557 are on ventilators, according to the state's data.

The vast majority of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, according to the state. In the last 30 days of data (Oct. 14-Nov. 12), 72% of cases, 71% of hospitalizations and 75% of deaths were among individuals who were not fully vaccinated.

"Mostly critically ill, just like most of the patients admitted, are unvaccinated," Sims said. "We certainly know how to treat it better than we did at the beginning. We have new medications, but once a person gets sick, there's only so much we can do."

For subscribers: Vaccine opposition propels Michigan's COVID surge: 'We don't have to be here'

Inside major hospitals

As of Monday, 4,181 adults and 48 children are hospitalized with positive cases. Another 205 adults and 139 children are hospitalized with suspected cases.

Approximately 1.7% of all new COVID-19 cases are breakthroughs in people who are fully vaccinated, the majority being above the age of 65, according to the state. 

"The breakthrough cases we see are typically older and they got the vaccine back in January, February and they haven't got their booster yet or they're immuno-suppressed where they have serious other medical issues which would prevent the vaccine from maybe working as well," Beaumont's Sims said.

Spectrum Health Senior Vice President Chad Tuttle said Monday the hospital system also broke its record at 438 COVID-19 inpatients, 106 of which are in the ICU. 

Being in a "code level red," Tuttle said over the last seven days, 25% of all tests for the virus have returned positive. During the past 24 hours, testing positivity is at 28.8%, he said.

"It's a new high for us and 91% are unvaccinated patients," Tuttle said. "We entered Monday morning well in excess of 90% occupancy, holding patients in all of our emergency departments, looking for discharges so that we can make room to admit many of those patients."

Tuttle said they've deferred in excess of 1,000 surgeries and are working with patients and surgeons to reschedule those that can't wait any longer.

"Very much impacting all of our hospitals as well as the other hospitals throughout west Michigan," he said. "We remain constrained by our EMS colleagues in the community who are also resource-challenged with the numbers being what they are. We continue to see long waits for transportation to shift patients between hospitals when they need to go to a higher level of care."

Spectrum Health revised its visitor policies last week to reduce the number of people in its Grand Rapids and 13 regional hospitals. Effective this week, patients are allowed only one adult visitor and pediatric patients are allowed two.

'We cannot wait any longer'

The only thing to curtail COVID cases is vaccinating, masking and social distancing, Sims said. State health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin urged all Michigan residents to wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands and get tested for COVID-19 — and to stay home if they are feeling ill. 

"Nobody wants to shut down again. I'm not suggesting that. But we need a multi-layered approach to preventing it," Sims said. "The problem is people aren't trying to prevent it anymore. It's not everybody; there are people who are. But there are people who aren't and they're not getting vaccinated and they won't wear masks. They gather with friends, family, etc., which lets it spread."

Health systems have been warning of a potentially overwhelming fourth surge of coronavirus cases.

Michigan faced a similar surge last year in cases leading up to the winter holidays. On average, there are 2,559 visits to emergency rooms that are related to COVID-19 daily in the state.

"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," the state's medical officers added in a statement last week. 

The federal government last Wednesday granted a request from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for staffing assistance to support medical personnel treating COVID-19 patients. Under the agreement, two teams of 22 members each will help staff at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn and Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

The teams will include registered nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists and will arrive next week. They will begin treating patients immediately and provide support for the next 30 days, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Almost all cases are from the delta variant. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services laboratory in Lansing has not yet identified any case caused by the new omicron variant, which was first discovered in southern Africa and has since spread to more than a dozen countries including England, Scotland, Portugal and Spain. 

“The more highly transmissible delta variant has fueled the current surge in COVID cases,” Sutfin said Monday. “Increased transmission fuels the development of more variants of concern. Ensuring that as many Michiganders as possible are vaccinated is the best protection we have against further variants of concern."

The state health department submitted a request for federal Veterans Affairs hospitals to open beds for civilian transfers and so far, beds have been opened at the John D. Dingell Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit.

About 71% of residents aged 16 and older have received first doses of a vaccine. When including children ages 5 and older, 61% have received first shots in the state.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Staff Writers Karen Bouffard and Craig Mauger contributed.