Michigan’s COVID-19 surge is trending in a “deeply concerning direction” ahead of the winter holidays and, unlike a year ago, is not subsiding following Thanksgiving, state health officials said Friday while urging vaccines and booster shots.
Infection rates and hospitalizations are near or at all-time highs in the state 21 months into the pandemic. Vaccination rates lag the national average, especially among children and people in their 20s and 30s. Three in four patients hospitalized with the coronavirus are unvaccinated.
“Michigan continues to trend in a deeply concerning direction heading into the Christmas holiday and the new year,” state health director Elizabeth Hertel said. She warned that the omicron variant — the first case of which was announced Thursday in Kent County — may be be more transmissible than the delta variant that is pounding the state.
The state is deploying ventilators to hospitals and asking for 200 more from the national stockpile.
“For individuals who have not yet been vaccinated, I want to be absolutely clear: You are risking serious illness, hospitalization and even death,” Hertel said. “If you have yet to receive the vaccine or you are not yet fully vaccinated, it is not a matter of if you will get sick but when — particularly with a more transmissible variant spreading across the state.”
The state is coordinating with U.S. officials to identify federal staffing to help treat infected people with antibody drugs.
More than 4,700 patients were hospitalized with the virus, including 4,500 adults with confirmed cases — a new record. More than 21% of beds had COVID-19 patients, a figure that never exceeded 20% in past waves, said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive.
“Where we are today is really just keeping our heads above water,” said Dr. Paolo Marciano, chief medical officer for Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, one of three Michigan hospitals where U.S. Army doctors and nurses are helping. He called the deployment a “tremendous lifeline,” one that state officials do not anticipate the U.S. government being able to expand further in Michigan due to limited federal resources.
“The number of health care workers is finite,” Hertel said. “It will take the efforts and the actions of our citizens and our communities to help to slow the increased number of patients into the hospitals to really ease the burden.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has resisted reinstating capacity restrictions and mask requirements that were in place for more than a year. New York on Friday reinstituted a face covering mandate unless businesses and venues implement a vaccine requirement.
Michigan’s COVID-19 death rate is higher than in the third surge last spring, when fewer residents were vaccinated, but lower than in the first and second waves in 2020. The 235 additional deaths reported Friday brought the total number of confirmed and probable deaths to nearly 27,000.
About 55.5% of the population is fully vaccinated, below the national rate of 60.5%. Vaccines and boosters, Bagdasarian said, are the best way to prepare for the omicron variant and flatten the curve. Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past illness or vaccines.
“We’re really at a critical place in this pandemic,” she said, also urging indoor masking in public and testing. “It’s really time for everyone to do their part.” (AP)