GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday renewed her calls for people to avoid large family gatherings at Thanksgiving to limit the spread of coronavirus even as the state continues to see a surge in cases.
“We know that gathering indoors with people who live outside our homes (and) not wearing masks is exactly how this virus spreads,” Whitmer said. “We beat this last time by listening to the medical health experts, and we can and we will do it again if we do it together.”
The state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun joined the governor in the plea during a press conference in Lansing, saying indoor gatherings are a primary source of virus spread.
“I’m encouraging everyone to please do the right thing and avoid having Thanksgiving with anyone outside of your household,” Khaldun said, citing federal guidance released Thursday discouraging large gatherings and travel for the holiday. “The smartest thing is not to gather.”
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced 7,592 more cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the state and 134 deaths linked to the virus had been recorded. Of the newly recorded deaths, 61 were discovered as public health officials reviewed death certificates to find any that had not already been reported to MDHHS.
Michigan has now seen 285,398 confirmed cases since the virus was first detected in Michigan in March and and 8,324 related deaths.
“While I’m very concerned about our numbers, I know that we can do this,” Khaldun added. “Stay focused on what you can control, be patient and do the right thing for your own health and the health of your family and the community.”
SPECTRUM HEALTH EXPECTS COVID-19 INPATIENTS TO NEARLY DOUBLE IN 2 WEEKS
Earlier Thursday afternoon, leaders from Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health held their own virtual press conference on the coronavirus outbreak in West Michigan. Spectrum Health West Michigan President Dr. Darryl Elmouchi said that 345 people receiving inpatient care at Spectrum hospitals have COVID-19. In early October, that number was around 35, he said.
Elmouchi said projections show there will be just shy of 600 COVID-19 patients within the system in about two weeks, with a worst-case scenario of just under 1,200 patients. However, Elmouchi made it clear projections can change and said hospital officials are hopeful nicer weather might mitigate the virus’s spread.
Elmouchi said staffing in the health care system is doing OK, despite some staffers testing positive and not being able to come to work after schools have gone virtual.
Spectrum has increased its intensive care units throughout the system and can expand capacity more. But Elmouchi noted about 25% of its ICU beds are filled with patients with the virus and those people often need a lot of care.
“We have opened additional ICU capacity across our hospitals to the point where we are very busy in our ICUs. We have additional capacity and if need be, we can expand capacity more,” Elmouchi said
“The people who make into the hospital and definitely the people who get into the ICU are far sicker this go-around than the first time, at least in West Michigan,” he added. “Walking through our units, it’s very hard to see.”
Spectrum’s seven-day rolling average of the testing positivity rate is 18.6%. Officials are running 3,000 to 4,000 tests a day. However, Elmouchi said they had to curtail some of their testing in the past week due to the demand and supply constraints.
“We are very concerned that if we don’t limit in some way our number of tests, we will have such long waiting times that those tests won’t be meaningful,” he said.
Spectrum also called for people to limit Thanksgiving gatherings to people of their own household and stay away from big groups.
“Don’t forget about us,” said Senior Vice President for Clinical Operations Shawn Ulreich.
During a Thursday afternoon roundtable hosted by the Kalamazoo County health department that streamed live on Facebook, Dr. Thomas Rohs, chief medical officer for Ascension Borgess, said his hospital system has seen a steady stream of coronavirus patients that has strained resources, though it is not yet overwhelmed. State data shows Borgess Hospital has 37 COVID-19 patients, which works out to 91% bed occupancy.
Dr. Martinson Arnan, chief clinical officer of Bronson Healthcare, said his system is seeing similar trends, including a spike in increased positive tests. In June, he said, 1 in 40 people tested were positive. As of last week, that had increased to 1 in 5.
“If we don’t change our behaviors then we can basically cause a problem where the health systems will be strained beyond capacity,” Arnan said, asking people to “continue to do what it takes to keep yourself safe.”
Following the lead of Spectrum Health and Mercy Health Saint Mary’s last week, Metro Health — University of Michigan Health on Thursday said it was tightening visitor restrictions effective immediately. No visitors will be allowed in the the hospital or outpatient facilities, with exceptions for one adult visitor for children, labor and delivery, nursery and surgery. Visitors will have to be screened and wear a mask to get in.
In the state data released Thursday, Kent County saw 739 more confirmed cases and nine more deaths. That brings its totals to 25,696 total cases since the start of the outbreak and 272 deaths.
Several other West Michigan counties also recorded additional deaths:
- Allegan County: One more death for 18 total; 2,866 total cases since the start of the outbreak eight months ago.
- Berrien County: Three more deaths for 102 total; 4,883 total cases.
- Calhoun County: Three more deaths for 104 total; 4,602 total cases.
- Cass County: One more death for 28 total; 1,648 total cases.
- Kalamazoo County: One more death for 145 total; 6,791 total cases.
- Muskegon County: 14 more deaths for 137 total; 5,679 total cases.
- Newaygo County: Three more deaths for 13 total; 1,231 total cases.
- Oceana County: One more death for 11 total; 960 total cases.
- Ottawa County: Eight more deaths for 112 total; 10,579 total cases.
- St. Joseph County: One more death for 29 total; 1,957 total cases.
- Van Buren County: One more death for 28 total; 2,069 total cases.
In Wayne County, which was the state’s early hot spot for the virus but is no longer seeing the worst figures, added 895 more cases for a total of 50,458 and seven more deaths for a total of 2,973. Also in southeast Michigan, Oakland County has had 32,958 confirmed cases (670 more than the previous day) and 1,244 deaths (10 more). Macomb County has had 28,745 cases (567 more) and 1,141 deaths (18 more).
STATEWIDE SURGE NOT ABATING
Dr. Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said the state is “still seeing an exponential rise in cases.”
“Every region in the state is seeing alarming case and test positivity rates,” she continued. “Our hospitals are closer and closer to becoming overwhelmed and are on average 79% full. And they are becoming more and more full of COVID-19 patients. Michigan, in fact, has the fourth highest number of COVID patients hospitalized in the country behind Texas, Illinois and California.”
Public health officials say that Michigan also now ranks sixth in the nation for new cases of COVID-19 and fifth in recent deaths.
The seven-day average of new cases per million people per day is about 549, more than four times higher than the spring peak and more than six times higher than it was at the start of October. West Michigan is seeing the worst rate of any region in the state with about 782 cases per million people per day.
On Wednesday, labs in Michigan tested 68,953 samples for the virus and 8,611 came back positive, a rate of 12.49%. The statewide seven-day average of positive tests is nearing 14%, more than quadruple the 3% that public health officials say demonstrates community spread is controlled.
“It’s not due to the fact there’s more testing,” Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Medical Director Dr. William Nettleton said of high positivity rates in his region during the online roundtable. “It’s due to the fact that there’s more of the virus circulating in our community at this time.”
He echoed state officials’ explanations that social gatherings are contributing to the rampant spread, saying “we need to focus limiting that.”
Across the state, some 3,805 hospital inpatients were either suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 as of Thursday.
The average of daily deaths is now above 30. While that is significantly better than it was during the spring peak, officials expect the situation to get worse before it gets better.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, health officials want you to get tested. You can find a testing site near you at Michigan.gov/coronavirustest. The state also urges people to download the free MI COVID Alert app to get notified if you may have been exposed. Khaldun said that app may help fill the gap left by overwhelmed contact tracers who cannot contact people as quickly as they could when the case load was lighter.
“The more people that have the app, the better it works,” Khaldun said, saying it had already been downloaded more than 300,000 times.
The good news, Spectrum Health’s Dr. Elmouchi said, is that two pharmaceutical companies’ COVID-19 vaccines appear to be very effective and are nearly ready for emergency federal approval.
“We’ve had work groups now in place for over two months,” Elmouchi said of vaccine planning. “These are internal to Spectrum Health and collaborating with every health department in our service area as well all of the other hospitals, health systems, physicians’ practices, you name it. We stand ready and able when a vaccine is available for distribution. Everything from -80 freezers to an entire distribution administration network. We look forward to a vaccine and we do feel there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Khaldun added that the state is preparing for distribution, too, working with hospitals, local health department and community partners. She reminded everyone that frontline health care workers and the most likely to develop a severe case of COVID-19 will be vaccinated first so it could be “well into the spring before the general public has access to the vaccine.”
Until then, Khaldun reminded people to get their flu shots to help keep those cases low and free up hospital space for COVID-19 patients. She also urged them to donate blood if possible, saying there is currently a shortage.
An MDHHS epidemic order with new restrictions meant to help flatten the curve went into effect Wednesday and is scheduled to last three weeks. Restaurants were told to halt dine-in services, movie theaters were closed again after being open for only about a month, high schools and colleges shifted to remote learning and social gatherings should be limited to two households.
Whitmer on Thursday said the measure is “targeted,” “meant to be temporary” and created with the advice of public health experts to get the virus under control and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
“Right now there’s no question that it is out of control community spread all across Michigan,” Whitmer said. “That is inherently dangerous. If we can get this moving in the right direction, it’s very possible.”
Citing the surge in cases, the 61st District Court in Grand Rapids announced Thursday that it will close to the public starting Monday through Dec. 31. Only essential proceedings will move forward and many will move online. Court payments may be made online, by calling 855.292.8925 or my mailing them to:
District Court Clerk’s Office
Suite 1400, 180 Ottawa Ave. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Landlord-tenant, general civil and small claims cases may be mailed or left in the civil drop box outside the District Court Clerk’s Office on the first floor of the courthouse.