Published in Health Care
Spectrum Health’s Contagious Disease Unit in 2020. Spectrum Health’s Contagious Disease Unit in 2020. COURTESY OF HEALTH BEAT, SPECTRUM HEALTH

‘This surge is not like the others:’ State health officials expect spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations in coming month

BY Tuesday, January 11, 2022 01:43pm

Michigan is poised to see a “very sharp crest” in the coming weeks in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the delta and omicron virus variants sicken thousands more people in a post-holiday surge, according to state health officials.

Under the most pessimistic modeling that state health officials fear may come true, hospitalizations across the state could reach 8,000 by the time the present COVID-19 case surge peaks in late January or early February.

Hospital admissions for COVID-19 increased 20 percent last week. A state dashboard on Monday listed statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients at 4,896, with 848 people in intensive care units. Hospital admissions involving COVID-19 patients have increased 66 percent since the week of Dec. 20, according to state data.

Nearly 22 percent of the hospital beds in the state are filled by COVID-19 patients.

Weekly COVID-19 cases are now at a record 1,301 per 100,000 people, and the most pessimistic state modeling forecasts the state could hit about 200,000 new cases weekly in the coming weeks.

“The most pessimistic model shows a very sharp and fast peak,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. “In fact, the most pessimistic model does seem to be the most accurate when we look at some of the assumptions behind it.”

Even the most optimistic modeling curve “looks similar to where we are now, without too much of an increase in hospitalizations,” although “we do not think that this is likely to be reflective of our next few weeks here in Michigan,” Bagdasarian said.

“What we are concerned about — and what seems to be perhaps the most predicted — are those most pessimistic models,” she said.

The most optimistic models for COVID-19 deaths in the state “are showing us following a similar trajectory to the one we’ve been on,” Bagdasarian said. The most pessimistic model forecasts a “very steep increase” in deaths from COVID-19.

On Monday, the state reported 44,524 confirmed cases of COVID-19 from Saturday and another 56 deaths. Since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, the state has recorded more than 1.68 million confirmed cases and 27,878 deaths.

Presently, the positivity rate for people testing for COVID-19 is at 33.2 percent, a number not seen since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.

“The numbers that we see during this surge have not been seen at earlier times of the pandemic,” Bagdasarian said. “This surge is not like the others. When we look at our new cases, our weekly cases per 100,000, we are now at a point that we have not seen through this pandemic. This is the highest number of weekly cases we’ve ever had.”

Though case counts are rising across all age groups, people in their 20s and 30s — a population  less likely to get vaccinated — are presently experiencing the highest case rates, according to state health officials.

“While breakthrough cases are to be expected with delta, and given the much greater transmissibility of omicron, people who are unvaccinated are still fueling the surging cases, but most especially hospitalizations and deaths,” Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said today in a media briefing.

Hertel urged people who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated — or get a booster shot if they are — and to follow safety protocols such as wearing a well-fitting, high-quality facemask in public, avoiding large gatherings and to wash their hands regularly.

“For our state to avoid a sharp rise with this next wave, for this to work, starting now and for the next several weeks, we ask everyone to keep their guard up and take actions,” Hertel said. “Be extra vigilant and layer protection.”

Hospitals stressed

The rising hospitalization rate will further stress hospitals that are “already under a great deal of strain,” Bagdasarian said.

“Adding more cases right now is going to result in further strain and further worse outcomes,” she said.

Hospitalizations are “exceptionally severe” in Southeast Michigan, which is experiencing 500 COVID-19 patients per 1 million people, Bagdasarian said.

In a region of West Michigan that includes Clare, Ionia, Isabella, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola and Ottawa counties, hospitalizations were at 327 per 1 million people.

The Southwest Michigan region of Allegan, Barry, Calhoun, Branch, St. Joseph, Cass, Berrien, Van Buren and Kalamazoo counties had 296 people per 1 million people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Five hospitals, including Mercy Health Muskegon and Spectrum Health’s Butterworth Hospital, have received assistance from military medical teams. Butterworth and Mercy Health Muskegon also recently secured state emergency approval to add beds to handle rising inpatient volumes from both COVID-19 patients and people who previously delayed care and are now seeking treatment for a medical condition.

Spectrum Health’s Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph last week sought emergency state approval to add 18 beds. Lakeland’s request to the state stated that the hospital was “currently surging beyond capacity due to the number of COVID-19 patients we are caring for, but also, what we believe is deferred care because of the global pandemic, and regular care.”

If approved, the 18 beds would add to the 44 temporary emergency beds the state already approved for Lakeland, raising the hospital’s capacity to 321 beds.

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