Home Coronavirus As COVID cases continue to climb, Michigan health care leaders speak out

As COVID cases continue to climb, Michigan health care leaders speak out

Governor Gretchen Whitmer during Thursday's press conference. Courtesy photo of Whitmer's press team

By Kennedy Mapes

With coronavirus cases in Michigan increasing at a rapid rate, and the prediction by experts that the state will surpass it’s spring peak by the end of this month, hospital leaders across Michigan are speaking out. They are urging people to be more cautious and stick to basic preventative practices.

The rise in cases is no longer limited to the southern regions of the state. Within the past month, hospitals across Michigan, including those in the Upper Peninsula, have seen a clear increase in cases and patients with no evidence of a slowdown in the near future. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer held a press conference Thursday afternoon addressing the rising cases in Michigan, calling this spike the worst part of the pandemic to date. Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun urged Michigan residents to take precautions.

“This is the moment medical experts have been warning about and dreading since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Whitmer.

Both urged residents to stay home and celebrate Thanksgiving this year within their own households. If you are going to celebrate with relatives, they suggest wearing masks, being socially distant, and frequent hand washing.

“Our country is averaging over 1,000 deaths every day,” said Whitmer. “I just want that to sink in for a second. Try to imagine ten 737 airplanes crashing to the ground every single day. That’s what we’re facing: A 9/11 every three days.”

The Michigan Health Association, along with five leaders from other state health systems, including leaders from Henry Ford, Beaumont, and Spectrum Health, held a virtual press conference earlier in the day to warn Michigan residents of the rapid surge in cases and hospitalization of COVID patients.

Jerry Anderson, Executive Chairmen of DTE energy, the host of the virtual conference, urged residents to do their part in slowing down the spread.

Our situation in Michigan is once again heading to a place that is going to be very painful for our state unless we take personal responsibility–all of us across the state to slow the spread,” Anderson said.

John Fox, Beaumont Health CEO, explained the exponential rise they are seeing across their nine emergency rooms and 25 urgent care centers. 

“We are dealing with a very serious situation here,” said Fox. “Our volumes are all the way up, particularly testing volumes. As Jerry indicated, the positivity rate is up substantially. That means that we, in our communities, are transmitting the virus much faster between each other than we were 30, 60, 90 days ago,” he continued. 

Fox also stated that it has been difficult getting people to participate in basic precautionary practices, specifically mask wearing. 

“It’s a difficult situation that people do not appreciate,” Fox said. “We see it out in the community. We see it in our own lobbies as people come in. We ask them to wear masks to do the basic protective activity and we get resistance.”

Tina Freese Decker, CEO of Spectrum Health, weighed in on the issue by describing the surge the Spectrum Health systems are experiencing.

“We do about 4,000 tests a day and it’s about a 15% positivity rate,” said Decker. “Just two months ago, in September, it was at 3%. So it’s a much different situation than we had a couple months ago.”

Decker also noted that they are no longer seeing the demographic disparities they once were. It is affecting people of all populations. 

“That’s why it’s critical that we come together as communities to practice the things we know that work, but also limit the in-person gatherings, so that we can flatten this curve and continue to care for our communities,”  Decker said.

The CEO of Henry Ford Health Systems, Wright Lassiter III, also provided his perspective to the conversation by describing what he is seeing across these systems. 

Lassiter explained that in the last two weeks, the COVID admissions at all hospitals in the Southeast region of the state, as well as the Central region, have risen by 128%.

“The positivity rate for patients being tested in Henry Ford laboratories has risen extensively,” said Lassiter. “As of this morning it was 16.4%” This number is shocking, considering the positivity rate a few weeks ago was in the “low single digits.”

“While there’s no silver bullet for COVID-19, we clearly know that some things work,” said Lassiter. “We clearly know that wearing masks work. We clearly know that social distancing helps. We clearly know that hand-hygiene helps you remove pathogens from your hands and we clearly know that removing yourself from large gatherings, where the spread is possible, will help.”

Lassiter continued by sharing a message on behalf of himself and the rest of his colleagues in the conference.

“We’re here this morning asking all Michiganders to support our essential workers in healthcare with the kinds of practices that will help us help you.”

Along with the rest of the state, college campuses across Michigan continue to see a rise in COVID-19 cases following the holiday weekend. Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University have provided an update in confirmed cases from the week of Nov. 2 to Nov 8.

GRCC reported 14 student cases and 6 employee cases. This brings the total number of confirmed student cases in the fall semester to 70 and the employee number to 15.

GVSU cases continue to climb at an alarming rate. Since the last report of the week of Oct. 26 through Nov. 1, the campus has seen an increase of 168 active cases, bringing the total to 263. Faculty and staff made up 17 of the cases, while students made up the rest. Forty-two of the confirmed student cases were on-campus students, while the rest were off-campus students.