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Beaumont nears COVID hospital capacity as expert warns of 'new pandemic'

The Detroit News - 4/15/2021

Apr. 15—Michigan's largest hospital system said it is nearing its capacity for COVID-19 patients, a development CEO John Fox called "troubling and alarming" as a Metro Detroit infectious disease doctor labeled the explosion of cases a "new pandemic."

Beaumont Health issued an "urgent warning" that its number of hospitalized patients has risen from 128 on Feb. 28 to more than 800 on Thursday, more patients than experienced during the fall surge of cases. The Southfield-based system urged Metro Detroit residents to "personally take immediate steps" to help to curb the spread of the coronavirus as most of its eight hospitals reach 95% capacity.

Health care officials attribute Michigan's surge to a combination of COVID variants including B.1.1.7, a United Kingdom variant for which Michigan has the second-highest number of cases in the nation; a lack of herd immunity; hesitancy to get the vaccine; and Michigan's weather driving more people indoors.

"This variant seems to me like a whole new pandemic because it is more virulent, it is highly contagious and it causes serious illness," said Dr. Teena Chopra, a professor of Infectious diseases at Detroit'sWayne State University Medical School.

Beaumont's Fox acknowledged hospitals now have a better understanding of the virus from the first two surges in the spring and fall of 2020 as well as effective vaccines, but said more action was needed.

"To flatten the curve again, we all need to work together now: Wear masks, wash hands, avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing and get vaccinated," he said. "We cannot do this alone. We need everyone's help immediately."

Overall, hospitals in Metro Detroit are at or nearing capacity, with COVID-19 units at 75% to 100% capacity, according to state data.

The new surge is straining medical staff that has been working to help patients battle the virus for more than a year, Beaumont said.

Hospital health care workers are running ragged across Southeast Michigan, Chopra said, contending that people need to be isolated to stop the spread.

"We have to do as we did in the past, and that worked for us," she said. "Isolating is something we have control over. Shutting down is one good way of bringing the surge down."

Chopra said more than 60% of cases in Michigan are caused by the U.K. variant.

"We are better equipped this time," she said. "We know how to do virtual school, we know how to take care of our health without going to the gym, by spending more time outside. But I think really the way things are at this point is a combination of vaccinations and some shutdowns."

Patients are younger and, in some cases, sicker than they were in the past, said Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont's medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology.

"Some younger patients also seem to be waiting longer to get care, thinking they can beat the virus," Gilpin said. "By the time they come to the hospital, we're seeing intense illness with pneumonia, blood clots and severe lung injury. This trend does not seem to be slowing down."

Michigan's cases and hospitalizations have been increasing for seven weeks straight, an increase Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has tried to address through a request for voluntary compliance with a two-week pause on in-person school learning, indoor dining and youth sports.

She also has asked the Biden administration for a surge in vaccines, but the administration has said it will continue to administer vaccines to states based on population.

As of Wednesday, the state reported 3,988 adults were hospitalized with the coronavirus, a 306% jump from one month ago when there were 981 hospitalizations. Of those hospitalized Wednesday, 841 are in ICU's and 471 are on ventilators.

Michigan has an 18% infection rate. The percentage of COVID-19 tests returning positive are nearly 21% in Detroit, where 419 people are hospitalized.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan warned residents Wednesday, saying if the city continues on a track of 700 new cases per day, the racial healthcare gap in the region will widen should the city's hospitals be overwhelmed with suburban residents.

"Our lower vaccine rate is leaving our neighbors vulnerable in a terrible way," Duggan said during a news conference Wednesday. "The worst is still ahead of us. There is no doubt that that wave is going to continue to spread down into our city and we have got to protect ourselves."

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, chief clinical officer of Henry Ford Health System, said over the last five weeks COVID-19 patients have grown from 75 to 550.

"Positivity rates from inpatients were 1 in 25 and are now 1 in 5, this is extremely troubling," said Munkarah, who endorsed monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 patients with chronic conditions.

"We've conducted more than 800 monoclonal antibody infusions at our six hospitals. It reduces hospitalization time, the risk of developing severe symptoms and dying, therefore, easing the burden on caregivers and hospitals."

Why is Michigan surging?

About 28% of Michigan residents are fully vaccinated, 42% have at least one dose, "and that's a far cry from where we need to be to get those herd immunity numbers that will really bring this under control," Gilpin said.

The surge is being driven by a younger demographic of unvaccinated community members that will propagate the virus, driving transition throughout the state, Gilpin said.

"We know that there are specific variables here. We know B.1.1.7. UK variant is more transmissible and another third variable is environmental," Gilpin said. "Even though we enjoy this weather in Michigan, it's still conducive to more indoor activities and so people are continuing to gather indoors and the cooler, somewhat drier air is better for this virus to move around."

He noted that larger states like Florida and Texas that were hit early on in the pandemic have better climates and people are safer spending more time outdoors.

"I think it's a bit of a perfect storm to explain why Michigan is where we are right now," Gilpin said.

Chopra said a shutdown would help if it lasted for a few weeks

"We have the CDC director said in her speech vaccinations can take up to four weeks until they start showing an effect — but up until then we need to slow things down," she said.

Michigan State University Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who helped uncover the Flint water crisis, on Twitter Wednesday urged the state to "shut down," noting a friend who is a nurse is "overwhelmed" and the nurse's hospital was using tents because there was no room in the ER.


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