COVID surge could send health system 'over the edge,' Michigan officials say

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The current surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations could send an "already stressed" health care system "over the edge," a presentation by Michigan's top health officials said Tuesday.

Those officials, Elizabeth Hertel, the health director, and Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the chief medical executive, didn't immediately detail what the possibility would specifically mean for hospitals and patients in Michigan. However, Bagdasarian shared modeling that said in the most pessimistic scenario, Michigan's COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the coming weeks at around 8,000. In the most optimistic scenario, they would linger at elevated levels where they are currently.

"We don't think that is likely to be reflective of our next few weeks here in Michigan," she said of the optimistic prediction.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian

On Monday — 22 months after Michigan detected its first COVID-19 cases — the  state reached a record tally for COVID-19 hospitalizations. The state reported 4,674 individuals were hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus.

The previous high was 4,566 on Dec. 13.

Hospital leaders have been voicing concerns about the ongoing stress on their employees and resources. Five federal teams have been activated to help in Michigan, and the state is working to deploy 200 additional ventilators, Hertel said.

The state, which saw a jump in infections and hospitalizations in November and early December because of the delta variant, is experiencing, just weeks later, a significant spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Bagdasarian said about 90% of the new cases in some regions of Michigan are omicron infections. Overall, the health department has been reporting record high totals of new cases in recent weeks, including 112,562 over the last seven days.

"This surge is not like the others," Bagdasarian told reporters. "This is the highest number of weekly cases that we've ever had."

"The number of hospitalizations at the peak could put an already stressed health care system over the edge," this slide presented on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says.

"We're expecting to see many, many more cases," the doctor added at another point Tuesday. "What we want to prevent are many, many more hospitalizations and deaths."

Bagdasarian, citing modeling from academic institutions and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, predicted the state's current surge will peak between late January and early February. Michiganians face a choice, she said.

"Do we want to work on bringing that peak down or do we just want to let this omicron surge explode?" she asked.

A slide the health officials presented said, "The number of hospitalizations at the peak could put an already stressed health care system over the edge."

"Actions taken swiftly and in the short term could prevent (the) health system from becoming further overwhelmed," the slide said.

Bagdasarian and Hertel urged residents to get vaccinated, to get tested before large gatherings or if they have symptoms and to wear well-fitting, high quality masks in indoor public settings or crowded settings.

Quality masks that adhere to the face and that feature multiple layers "are more important than ever," Bagdasarian said.

People who are unvaccinated are fueling the COVID-19 surge, especially in hospitals and deaths, Hertel said.

As of Monday, 64% of Michigan's population has received at least one vaccine dose, according to CDC data.

People who are experiencing a health emergency should seek care at an emergency room, Hertel said. But for those with non-emergency situations, the best options are urgent care facilities or primary care doctors.