By Elizabeth Halvorson
The State of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) held a virtual press briefing on Friday, Nov. 19 to discuss the current COVID-19 situation and issue a Public Health Advisory recommending every person over the age of 2 wear a face mask at indoor gatherings and that businesses implement mask policies to mitigate transmission after a surge of positive cases were reported in the last few weeks.
MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel led the press conference and highlighted the need for heightened caution as the state moves into the holiday season. With an increase in positive cases, on top of the steady flow that Michigan has seen since the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals are being stretched beyond their limits and face difficulties in providing adequate care to patients arriving at their doorstep with other ailments.
Hertel explained the importance of taking steps to protect ourselves during the holiday season and urged those who are not vaccinated to begin the process.
“If you haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine or booster yet, get vaccinated, or get your booster dose and get your flu shot at the same time,” Hertel said. “Vaccines continue to be our absolute best way to fight COVID-19, reduce spread and decrease the risk of severe illness, hospitalizations and death.”
MDHHS anticipates the federal government will soon authorize COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to be available to everyone who is two months past the single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or six months past the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
On the topic of hospitalizations, Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, President of Spectrum Health West Michigan, highlighted the difficulties that the most recent surge in positive cases has brought to hospitals.
“When (hospitals) start getting full, and then you add COVID on top… across our state we’ve seen hospital after hospital sitting at or over 100% capacity,” Elmouchi said. “This has been going on for so many months it’s putting a strain on healthcare resources and caregivers and it’s quite difficult.”
Currently, Michigan is seeing over 15% of hospital beds being used to care for COVID-19 patients and of those patients, 72% are unvaccinated.
MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Natasha Bagdasarian presented current statistics from around the state of Michigan. On the subject of the number of positive cases, Bagdasarian spoke about the 16.8% positivity rate across the state and highlighted the rising rate in some regions which is up to 20% – including Grand Rapids.
“Case rates are now virtually at the same point at this time as they were this time last year,” Bagdasarian said. “The trend is following the same rapid rise that we experienced last fall and with the holidays around the corner, this is especially concerning.”
Elmouchi expanded on Spectrum Health’s choice to move to red status.
“This essentially refocuses all of our efforts on our inpatient care, urgent cares, emergency departments and on delivering monoclonal antibodies,” Elmouchi said. “We’ve been dealing with a lot of non-COVID care and increasing amounts of COVID during these surges. It’s almost like we’re running a marathon and the finish line keeps pushing back.”
Michigan’s Restaurant and Lodging Association President, Justin Winslow urged hospitality patrons to be mindful of simple and reasonable steps to take during the holiday season.
“As we head into that season, it is so critically important that we do so responsibly, and with the mindset that takes into account the health and well being of our fellow Michiganders,” Winslow explained.
Other options are available for restaurant patrons who do not feel comfortable dining in as the hospitality industry has expanded carry out and delivery options over the course of the pandemic.
Reverend Dr. Tellis Jerome Chapman, commissioner to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Pastor of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, implored Michiganders of all faiths to trust in medical science and, get vaccinated, and to remember the effects this pandemic has on the economy.
“This is not a political issue. It is a matter of life and death. We must employ every means necessary to mitigate the pandemic,” Chapman said.
With Grand Rapids being in a heightened level of positive cases, tracking Grand Rapids Community College confirmed cases is vital to students and faculty health.
“GRCC posts a dashboard listing the numbers of COVID cases and is updated each week,” explained David Murray, Communications Director for GRCC.
Starting on Aug. 16 to Nov. 14, the semester total stands at 127 confirmed COVID cases, with a high of 21 confirmed cases reported between Nov. 1-7.
“Any case is something to be concerned about, but I think we have to take into account the work all of us – students, employees, and community members – have done to keep these numbers low,” Murray said. “Students and employees have worked on following the wellness protocols, and we really appreciate their efforts.”
The MDHHS Public Health Advisory can be viewed here.