The state is also accessing its ventilator stockpile and requesting an additional 200 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile to deal with the growing number of hospitalized COVID patients requiring mechanical assistance to breathe, Hertel said. The state has 80 national stockpile ventilators in its possession and 724 state- or healthcare coalition-owned ventilators.
As of Dec. 8, there were 601 hospitalized COVID patients on a ventilator, or about 13 percent of all hospitalized COVID patients. On average last week, 87 people died of COVID each day in Michigan hospitals. Nearly 25,000 people in Michigan have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
The latest surge may be exacerbated by the emergence of a new, more contagious variant in the state: omicron. The new variant, which has rapidly spread to 25 states, was first identified in Michigan on Thursday in Kent County on the state's west side. The Kent County omicron case was considered mild, said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive for the state of Michigan.
Early indications are that omicron is more contagious than the very contagious delta variant, but that its impacts are less severe. However, with hospitals overrun with patients, adding a new variant to the mix presents even greater and graver logistical challenges.
Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor had canceled 40 surgeries through Wednesday this week to redeploy staff to care for more COVID patients, Dr. David Miller, physician and president of the University of Michigan Health System, told reporters earlier this week.
Coupled with the ongoing labor shortage — the system has upward of 400 unfilled positions — Michigan Medicine has also closed critical care beds in its pediatric hospital to ensure better staffing in its emergency and intensive care units.
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"Patients who don't receive timely surgery are dying," said Dr. Marschall Runge, CEO of Michigan Medicine and medical school dean. "(The unvaccinated) are risking the lives of others who may die from preventable diseases who can't get their healthcare."
Deaths not caused by COVID-19 are also on the rise, indicating hospitals are overwhelmed and care is being impacted, Bagdasarian said. Excess deaths have been higher than previous averages four out of the last eight weeks, according to state data.
Health officials across the state are begging residents to get vaccinated. Michigan's vaccination rate ranks 32nd in the country with just 55.46 percent of the population vaccinated.
Vermont is the highest vaccinated state in the country at 74.52 percent.
"We can all agree we're ready to be done with this pandemic, but this pandemic is not over," Hertel said. "Right now, every person in the state has the opportunity to drive the numbers back down by getting vaccinated and getting your kids 5 and up vaccinated."
Asked if any limitations or mandates, such as wearing masks in schools, are forthcoming, like was done during the early parts of the pandemic, Hertzel replied that the state is urging mask-wearing, vaccinations and other preventative measures but did not commit to any mandates.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.