After hospitalizations statewide doubled in just two weeks, health care executives across Michigan are emphasizing the need for people to follow public health guidelines to get the spread of the coronavirus back under control.
The Michigan Health & Hospital Association reports that 3,071 people statewide with COVID-19 were hospitalized as of Wednesday. That’s three times the number of people who were in the hospital with COVID-19 just 30 days ago and a 100 percent increase from Oct. 29.
In the three weeks since, Michigan has seen the largest surge in inpatients since the upswing in COVID-19 cases began early last month, the MHA said.
At the present rate, and “if nothing is done to change the growth rate of the surge,” 5,000 people in Michigan could wind up in the hospital within a few weeks with COVID-19, according to the MHA.
“Michigan is at a pivotal point in our fight against the spread of COVID-19,” said MHA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Roth, who urged people to limit gatherings over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend to people they live with, as well as to wear face masks and maintain distance from one another.
“The upcoming holidays will challenge us all. The actions we take today can lead to full dining room tables for many more holidays to come,” Roth said.
Health care executives in a media briefing this morning emphasized the present seriousness of the situation and said much of the recent surge resulted from small social gatherings. Now that tests are recording positive rates of 15 to 20 percent, there’s a likelihood that even in a small gathering of five people somebody is a likely carrier of the coronavirus “and will spread the disease,” said Gerry Anderson, the executive chairman of DTE Energy who chairs the Michigan Economic Recovery Council.
Anderson declined to discuss specific policy action state lawmakers could take to address the surge.
Of those testing positive, 40 percent are asymptomatic, said Wright Lassiter III, CEO of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
Hospital leaders say people should still wear a face mask and distance even in small gatherings with friends and family.
“It’s just re-thinking what we were doing earlier in the year when it was a lower positivity rate. Now that it’s higher, we just need to understand that there is greater risk of this silent and invisible virus that is around us and lower that rate,” said Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.
“It’s going to take all of us to slow this spread,” Freese Decker said.
The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has been pushing hospitals’ capacity. While hospitals have the ability to add beds as cases rise, their biggest issue is staffing, as MiBiz reported Wednesday.
“Unlike in the spring, the COVID-19 surge is now statewide, which means our ability to share staff and transfer patients is minimal. It is critical that we help our care teams stay healthy by reducing the community spread of COVID-19,” Freese Decker said.
Since the surge has occurred across Michigan and in many other states, hospitals have limited ability to collaborate and share staff to handle cases surges, hospital leaders say. Hospitals are also having to deal with staff contracting the coronavirus.
“We certainly have taken advantage of our surge capacity plans to add inpatient capacity where that makes sense. So, it’s not necessarily an issue of lack of hospital beds, but it truly is a very concerning issue when you talk about availability of staff, particularly when frontline caregivers are testing positive themselves,” said Michigan Health & Hospital Association CEO Brian Peters.
“The viability of our health care system depends on reducing the rate of community spread that is impacting our health care workforce,” Peters said.
Executives stressed that hospitals are safe, have adequate personal protection equipment, and possess a far better understanding today of preventing the virus’ spread than in the spring.
“PPE does work. It does create a safe environment,” said John Fox, president and CEO of Southfield-based Beaumont Health.
Ed Ness, president and CEO of Munson Healthcare in Traverse City, said the present spread of COVID-19 is “a community issue, not an issue of spread within a hospital.”
Hospital executives say they want to avoid having to delay procedures or go back into the kind lockdown they went through in the spring when the pandemic hit. Delaying or deferring elective or non-urgent care for non-COVID patients could result in people having a medical condition worsen.
“Those patients need care and we want to stay functional with respect to a whole spectrum of clinical programs,” Fox said. “We believe that delaying those services puts peoples’ health at risk.”
Lassiter said a “small percentage” of patients have opted to delay their care “because they are becoming concerned again about COVID in hospitals.”
“Hospitals are safe places. Our staff and our leaders understand how to ensure that we keep people safe and segregated between COVID and non-COVID patients,” Lassiter said.
To free up beds and redeploy staff as needed, some hospitals — such as Spectrum Health, Metro Health-University of Michigan and Mercy Health Muskegon — have begun to delay or limit elective surgical procedures that require a stay in the hospital.
Hospitals can defer and delay elective care “if it’s absolutely necessary” to redeploy staff, “but the reality is we want to make sure our doors are open for those who need health care services to the extent possible,” Peters said. “We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to avoid that outcome.”
Spectrum Health has been moving more surgeries to an outpatient setting, eliminating the use of an inpatient bed and staff, Freese Decker said.
“That allows us to be better prepared to expand our traditional capacity,” she said. “It’s really about each patient and each person’s individual situation and how does that impact them and how does that impact then the organization?”