MDHHS: Get vaccinated, wear mask to slow virus spread

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With Michigan already facing a record number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and the omicron surge not expected to peak until the end of the month at the earliest, public health leaders continue to urge people to get vaccinated, get boosted and double mask in public to slow the spread of the virus.

“We really need to work together and utilize all these tools,” Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said. “This surge is not like previous surges. We’re expecting to see many, many more cases. And what we want to prevent are many, many more hospitalizations and deaths.”

Bagdasarian and Elizabeth Hertel, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, held a virtual press conference Tuesday morning to address the state of COVID-19 in Michigan.

“With the continued transmission of the delta variant and the exponential spread of the even more contagious omicron variant, we’re heading toward what will likely be a very sharp crest in this wave of cases while still seeing our hospitalizations increase,” Hertel said. “To lessen your risk of getting COVID and the potential for severe infection, to avoid disruptions to in-person learning and the economic ramifications that come with some many people getting sick and needing to stay home or quarantine, and to try to ensure that our health and hospital systems have the capacity to treat you quickly when you walk through their doors for an emergency, including nonCOVID conditions, it is critical that every person in this state continues to take steps to stay safe.”

There has been a large jump in the number of cases in recent weeks following holiday gatherings and the rise of omicron. Last week, Michigan topped 100,000 cases in a single week.

“This is the highest number of weekly cases we’ve ever had,” Bagdasarian said.

The positive test rate has been sitting above 30%, a figure it has not reached since the very start of the pandemic when tests were had to come by and only a few were being run each day.

Bagdasarian said case rates are trending up among all age groups, but they are rising the fastest among age groups that have the lowest vaccination rates — that is, people age 29 and younger. Hospitalizations are also rising among all age groups and the quick rise in pediatric hospitalizations is “troubling,” Bagdasarian said.

The surge has prompted Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties to again suspend jury trials.

The state is expecting a “very sharp and fast peak” in cases and hospitalizations, Bagdasarian said. She said the most “pessimistic” model for the future, which she said right now seems to be the most accurate, shows Michigan could see a some 200,000 cases per week and a peak of 8,000 hospitalizations.

She expects that peak in late January or early February, after which numbers should drop.

“What’s really up to us as a state is how high do we want that peak to be,” Bagdasarian said. “I think that if we don’t use the tools we have — and we have a lot of tools — if we don’t use the tools we have, we can expect those peaks to be at those really worst-case scenarios.”

She noted that hospitals are already strained said that means that any more cases will result in worse outcomes.

Many hospitals are at or beyond capacity. Five hospitals in the state, including Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital and Mercy Health Muskegon, have been assigned teams of federal health care workers to help manage the strain.

Hertel reminded people to be thoughtful about whether they need an emergency room to help hospitals keep on top of cases. Only go to the emergency room for an actual emergency. For more minor ailments, you should reach out to a primary care provider or go to urgent care. If you’re experiencing trouble breathing, chest pains or other symptoms of a heart attack, signs of a stroke or serious bleeding, you should still go to the emergency room.

Health officials are urging people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by getting vaccinated and said it’s especially important to get vaccinated kids.

“We need more initial shots in arms and boosters are so incredibly important in the fight against omircron,” Hertel said.

She reminded parents that they can now get kids as young as 12 a booster shot.

“We know that vaccines protect against severe outcomes and deaths,” Bagdasarian said. “We really need to make progress in our state to vaccinate and boost those in our youngest age groups.”

She said that people who are unvaccinated or not boosted are more likely than those who are vaccinated and boosted to get very sick because of the virus, need a ventilator or die.

Speaking with News 8 political reporter Rick Albin on Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer echoed the same message:

“What we are experiencing here in Michigan is being experienced in states all around us. I mean, this is a problem that the whole world is grappling with. This variant is so much more contagious,” she said. “The great thing about our boosters, though, is that is incredibly powerful at keeping people out of the hospital. And that’s why our effort’s continuing to get people vaccinated, continue encouraging people to get boosted if you’re eligible and haven’t yet. This is the best way to stay out of the hospital.”

She urged everyone to do their part to support the hospital workers who are exhausted not just by the current surge, but by nearly two years dealing with the pandemic.

“…Encouraging everyone to do their part and to take this seriously,” the governor said. “We can’t hope that we’ll just ride this wave out. There may be another. This virus will continue to mutate. And that’s why we’ve got to use these tools to stay safe.”

Bagdasarian urged people to wear well-fitting, multilayered masks that form a “good seal” around their faces.

“What has become more important than ever as we look at omicron and how transmissible it is, is that the role of well-fitting, high-quality masks is even more important, especially at indoor or crowded public settings,” Bagdasarian said.

Hertel asked people to upgrade to an N95 mask or wear two cloth or reusable masks in public.

She also called on schools to institute universal masking protocols. She said the state is continuing to hand out at-home testing kits to families through schools and will soon do so through some public libraries, including in Hart, Hesperia, Homer, Pentwater and White Cloud, among other places in the state. More information on that program will be released soon.

If you think you’ve been exposed or if you’re experiencing symptoms, seek a test. You should also get tested before a gathering.

—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed to this report.

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