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Michigan Hospitals Are Preparing For Latest COVID Spike to Be Worse Than April 2020

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Michigan hospitals are preparing for the state’s worst COVID spike since the beginning of the pandemic—even worse than when healthcare systems were desperately overwhelmed in April 2020.

“Our surge this time has, to me, been the most challenging. We’re at levels that are approaching the surge that we had last April of 2020,” Beaumont Hospital Troy’s Emergency Center Chief Dr. David Donaldson told The Liberty Buzz.

“I think we’re all really worried here in Michigan as numbers continue to go up. I suspect we’ll have a number that will exceed what we even saw a year ago this time, which will really be challenging for the healthcare system,” said Dr. Vikas Parekh, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

On Tuesday, Michigan hospitalizations almost reached a record high. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,011 adults hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19, nearing the previous peak of 4,365 inpatients on April 8, 2020, according to data from the University of Michigan.

Donaldson said that some of the biggest challenges health officials are facing this time is the return of elective surgeries and staffing shortages. He said that while people were afraid to go to hospitals when little was known about the virus last year, emergency departments are returning to pre-pandemic volumes on top of the coronavirus surge.

Hospitals are also seeing more and more nurses leave the workforce, which Donaldson said can be attributed to the burnout of working as a frontline worker throughout the pandemic, as well as school closures that may have required some parents to remain at home with their children.

But the key difference between Michigan’s latest COVID spike and previous surges is that the U.K. variant B.1.1.7 has become the dominant strain among patients—a change that has also resulted in a vastly different patient profile.

“Michigan is number one in the country, unfortunately, for a lot of COVID categories right now, and one of them is the number of identified B.1.1.7 cases,” Dr. Liam Sullivan, an infectious disease physician at Spectrum Health, told The Liberty Buzz.

A group of teenagers serving as ‘COVID-19 Student Ambassadors’ joined Governor Gretchen Whitmer to receive a dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine at Ford Field during an event to promote and encourage Michigan residents to go and get their vaccines on April 6, 2021, in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan hospital officials urge residents to get vaccinated amid the state’s latest COVID surge.
Matthew Hatcher/Stringer

Although Michigan’s medical workers are anticipating hospitalizations to continue rising, there is hope that healthcare systems won’t be scrambling to find resources a year after the pandemic began.

“What’s different this time is we know what to do. This is our third wave here in Michigan of fairly similar severity, so to some degree, the sort of uncertainty is not there. We have plans. We’ve been through this before. But that being said, at some point, you can only stretch a health system so far,” Parekh said.

“Back then, we spilled outside of all of our ICUs. We had to do makeshift ICUs and we did a very good job of creating space in our hospital for ICU patients,” Sullivan added. “While we have a good ability to do that, nobody wants to do that again, if it’s possible. We want to avoid that. It puts a lot of strain on our personnel. People work long hours and we’re tired and weary from the fall/winter surge.”

Despite being better equipped to handle an influx of patients, Sullivan acknowledged that he remains concerned that the modeling projections of hospitalizations and positivity rates he is seeing look like the alarming levels Michigan saw in the fall.

And while he doesn’t necessarily believe that lockdowns would be an effective way to combat the virus at this time, he said each person has some obligation to do what’s in their control to curb the spread of the virus.

“This virus doesn’t care about your political, religious, social beliefs. It doesn’t care about any of that. The only thing it cares about is propagating itself and spreading from person to person,” he said.

Both Sullivan and Donaldson urged Michiganders to trust the recommendation of health officials and get vaccinated.

“The ability to transmit the virus in vaccinated people is almost null,” Sullivan told The Liberty Buzz. “I think those are the two things [we need to do]—people continuing to practice precaution and getting vaccinated when they have the opportunity to do so.”

Donaldson agreed, saying, “In my opinion, that really is the only way out of this. I am nervous there is some vaccine hesitancy and some rumors on social media, but I really think we have to get the message out there that to end this, the only way is vaccines.”

The Liberty Buzz, in partnership with NewsGuard, is dedicated to providing accurate and verifiable vaccine and health information. With NewsGuard’s HealthGuard browser extension, users can verify if a website is a trustworthy source of health information. Visit the The Liberty Buzz VaxFacts website to learn more and to download the HealthGuard browser extension.

Correction 04/13/21 5:35 p.m. An earlier version of this story said Michigan’s hospitalization peaked on April 12.

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