The number of ill Michigan residents with positive cases of COVID-19 occupying hospital beds in the state has surpassed the fall surge in hospitalizations, straining health care systems that are still rebounding from the last wave of infections.
On Monday, Michigan hospitals reported 3,918 COVID-positive patients occupying about 18% of hospital beds across the state, surpassing the fall peak of 3,884 on Dec. 1.
COVID hospitalizations have increased more than 26% in a week and nearly 83% from two weeks ago with 61% of COVID patients in Southeast Michigan hospitals.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Monday reported 9,674 new cases of COVID-19 over the past two days, bringing the rolling seven-day average to 6,456, slightly down from 6,763 on Friday. The statewide COVID testing positivity rate Sunday was 14.7%— nearly triple the positivity rate from a month ago.
Southfield-based Beaumont Health has 854 COVID-positive patients across eight hospitals, already exceeding the fall peak of 700 patients at one time, said Dr. Nick Gilpin, medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Beaumont Health.
"This is definitely more than we took care of in the fall and winter," Gilpin told Crain's on Monday. "It's concerning because we've got our usual non-COVID business in our hospital — that hasn't really changed at this point — and our COVID census just keeps creeping and creeping up."
Beaumont's Royal Oak hospital has 200 COVID patients and is nearing official capacity.
Gilpin is less concerned about capacity—new beds can be brought in, operating rooms can be coverted to COVID wings.
"The limiting factor still is staff," he said. "You can put beds on the lawn if you have to, but if you don't have people to work them you've got nothing."
Nurses, doctors and support staff are suffering from "burnout" as the third COVID surge in 13 months takes hold on Beaumont's hospitals, Gilpin said.
"Our executive team has taken some steps to increase pay for contingent staff and to try to incentivize people to come in and help out when we get super busy," Gilpin said. "But a lot of the nurses and staff don't want to pick up extra shifts because they're just fried."
Michigan's growing number of COVID-positive patients in hospital beds comes as the head of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention suggested Monday that state and local public health officials should issue new shutdown orders to control the disease.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said the "extraordinary" number of new cases in Michigan necessitates a lockdown like the state had in the fall and last spring.
"The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and to shut things down to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another, to test to the extent that we have available, to contact trace — sometimes you can't even do it at the capacity that you need," Walensky said during the daily White House COVID press briefing.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has resisted imposing additional restrictions beyond the current mask mandate for indoor public places, the 25-person limit for indoor gatherings and 50% capacity limit for bars and restaurants. Her administration is moving to extend by six months workplace restrictions that have largely curtailed in-person office work since October.
On Monday, the Democratic governor contrasted the current surge in COVID cases to last April when Beaumont and other hospital systems in Southeast Michigan were at capacity for weeks during the first wave of infections.
"Instead of a year ago where this was a novel virus and we didn't even know that a mask was going to give us 97 percent protection, we had to take strong actions to keep people safe," Whitmer said Monday after touring a COVID vaccination clinic at Eastern Michigan University. "We now know a lot more about this — we now have PPE, we now have testing, we now have vaccines. We each have enough information to do our part — and that's what we're calling on people to do, to do your part."
Whitmer suggested personal responsibility will help drive down the number of new daily cases of COVID-19.
"We know that we are ... close to the end of this saga if we all do our part, and that's why we're going to continue to call on people to do that and not go back to those same kind of protocols, because we're in a different moment," Whitmer said.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.